BNTU threatens strike if Senate investigation ends

By Benjamin Flowers
Staff Reporter

The Belize National Teachers’ Union (BNTU) warned Prime Minister Dean Barrow this week that it may resume strike action if more funds are not allocated to the Senate Special Select Committee to continue its investigation.

BNTU President/Senator Elena Smith, explained that the strike action instituted in 2016 is merely “on hold”, while the Union monitors the government’s performance in meeting the eight demands outlined in its “Stand up for Belize” campaign.
Smith said that the Union is meeting over the weekend to assess GOB’s performance in meeting those demands, and the funding for the Committee will form a part of that discussion.

“We cannot fight for good governance, see something on paper and stop there. There are things that must be done, and if those things are not being done to time, then that is an option. Industrial action is always an option,” Smith said.

Her position was seconded by Business Senator, Mark Lizarraga, who said that the Committee should be allowed to run its natural course.
Lizarraga pointed out that the Prime Minister had acknowleged that there were incidents of wrongdoing in the Auditor General’s Special Audit Report of the Immigration and Nationality Department, and said that his government accepted the responsibility.

He went on to say that if the PM was sincere about addressing the issues raised in the report, he would make the necessary allocations for the Committee to finish its work.
“We need more oversignt, not less and that has to be a priority for anybody who is serious about bringing about change in this country,” Lizarraga said.

He also pointed out that the PM cutting the funding due to budgetary constraints is questionable, given that the government did not make any budgetary allocations for the implementation of the United Nations Convention Agaists Corruption (UNCAC) in the 2017/2018 budget.
The PM cited UNCAC as one of the reasons GOB could no longer finance the public hearings. Lizarraga also noted that the Special Select Committee’s budget fell from over $100,000 last year to $50,000 this year.
However, not all senators felt that the hearings need to continue. Church Senator Ashley Rocke said that he feels the Committee has run its course and should have its work completed by November if the senators work diligently.

“It was tailored on the premise that someone in Immigration had stolen visa foils and sold them. In my mind, I think we were able to find the culprits. Now it’s for us to sit down and write what’s going to happen to those people,” Rocke said.

His sentiments mirrored those of Committee Chair, Aldo Salazar, who said that he feels a year was enough for the Committee’s investigation. Salazar told the media this week that he has no problems with the funding coming to an end because of the work the Committee has done since last November.
In August, Prime Minister Dean Barrow wrote to the Clerk of the National Assembly, Eddie Webster, saying that he wouldn’t be disbursing any more funds to the Committee after the government makes two more supplementary payments amounting to $165,552.

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