By Louis Wade
The teachers are marching, again. The last time they took to the streets was last year January 2013 when government said there was no money for a salary adjustment. Before that, it was way back in 2005 when teachers were tired of the corruption under the then administration. And the teachers won’t have us forget it: at a rally in Cayo last week, they reminded the nation that they helped put this administration in office, but not for “this”.
The definition of the “this”, however, is where clarity is needed; is the “this” the “Panoply of issues” plaguing the current administration, or is it “all about the money”?
The Government either believes that teachers and public officers do not deserve the salary adjustment OR there really is no money for increased payroll. One thing is certain; they have been fighting against the increase for years.
Teachers, meanwhile, say that it is more than just the salary adjustment. Pointing to the fact that negotiations are still ongoing, they say it is also about corruption and good governance. The debate has been public and ongoing since that fateful New Year’s message; the one that mistook August for July. It is clear that both sides have been trying to gain public sympathy.
The Minister of Education’s impassioned lectures pointed to teachers breaching payday policies, poor examination results, and lost contact time, all while bashing a Minister of Education that gave them “nothing but love”. Even the Chamber took a few hits for siding with the teachers. To say that things “hard out ya” does not bode well in a “golden era”. The Prime Minister painted the picture of the president of the Teachers Union as “a prisoner”, a “wind-up toy” manipulated by its members.
This strategy employed by the government to gain public support is, at minimum, an uphill battle because teachers, by default, have tremendous goodwill stacked on their side due to their hard work and dedication. Of late, politicians have not fared as well.
On the other hand, the teachers are using some political grand standing of their own. They seem to have borrowed the art of rhetoric from the politicians. “Teechaz gat yu bak” is one heck of a zinger; a reassuring one liner that comes at a time when the common man is complaining more and more about injustice and inequity.
But teachers do have the power to “gat wi back” if they really want, “for the union is strong”. But this valiant statement seems more like political talk because it is non-specific! The “teachers gat yu back” campaign has nothing in writing, nothing concrete to hold them to. Nothing, except their cry for salary adjustment; and to those Belizeans who don’t work in a class room, that does not really come across as the rest of our backs being protected.
Anti corruption! Now, that’s not just about teachers. Anticorruption is about all of us. That is where our backs are against the wall. But cries of stopping corruption are vague, difficult, impossible to define and pin down. We need specifics! Why? So we can give the teachers their own report card, complete with a “grade” beside each of the corruption issues they help to address. The union leaders must, for clarity and transparency, put these issues in writing and clearly articulate what outcomes they expect for each issue. In that way, the public will know exactly on what issues they have “our backs”. The public has approved the salary adjustment. In fact, I believe we can see the floor!
In a Wave Radio interview, PM Barrow said, “They will end up with not less than three percent in addition to the annual two percent that they get…they are demanding that I give them a minimum, and I cannot and will not do that.” Sounds like a floor to me! So, the timing is right to see these other demands in writing; demands that will benefit the entire nation.
Surely the issues that have been burning in the public discourse, at least over the past six months, must make the list! What about the Public Accounts Committee? The Thirteenth Senator? An independent Auditor General’s office? A broken Referendum Act and the useless Recall Mechanism? An independent Elections and Boundaries Commission? The Passport Investigation? Re-registration? Equitable Land distribution? The unequal application of draconian gun laws?
These are some of the major issues blazing in the public domain. Do the teachers “have our backs” on these? Surely the fixing or improving of a broken social and economic system, that public monies go to national development, and the plugging of leaking financial holes can yield greater results for all. Such fixes will create an even greater boost and payback, not just for teachers and public servants, but for all Belizeans now and for generations to come.
In a few weeks, teachers will go back to their classes, the media will publicize their next revelations, the politicians will go back into defence mode, and the public will once again be thrown into outrage. That too is business as usual in Belize. It is high time we stop pandering to kneejerk reactions and start fixing the system.
When we do THAT, we will be able to go about our daily lives peaceably because the SYSTEM will have all our backs.