By Benjamin Flowers
Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow held a press conference this week to address a host of national issues, many of which the newly formed, syndicated pressure group Rod of Correction has raised.
Barrow spoke on the ROC movement as a whole, but also dealt with its members individually as he addressed issues being discussed in the public domain.
He characterized the ROC as being “confrontational,” “disrespectful,” and “rude.” He also accused them of trying to create a false sense of crisis.
“I have to say that the position adopted; the effort made to suggest that the sky is falling down, is absolutely unsustainable when you look at the facts,” Barrow said. “I get the sense that the desire is to provoke the kind of crisis that we saw in – was it 2005?”
The trade unions
Barrow called out the National Trade Union Congress of Belize, saying that its members are leading the ROC movement for “selfish” reasons.
He said that despite the unions’ efforts to put pressure on GOB for its Collective Bargaining Agreement, the government cannot and will not yield to any more of the unions’ demands.
He added that considering the unions have been given approximately 90 percent of their demands, including a six percent salary increase apart from the three percent annual increment, the Government is not in a position to give them any more.
“We cannot do more without then passing on the additional portion of a new bill that will become due to the taxpayers. The public officers and the teachers are a critically important and valuable element of our society, but they’re not the whole society.”
To the Belize Grassroots Youth Empowerment Association, Barrow reiterated an emphatic “No” with respect to their planting corn in the Buffer Zone of the Harmonyville community, located at mile 41 on the George Price highway. He maintained that GOB will not concede to BGYEA planting in the buffer because the land belongs to the government and is intended for a designated purpose.
He added that planting in the buffer is against the law, though he could not readily cite the particular section, and concluded that government would not agree to criminality.
He also said that the number of supporters who came out for the “Plant the Corn” rally, hosted by BGYEA last week, proved that they did not have the public support on the issue.
Barrow noted that he intends to do nothing about the Pharmacy Association of Belize’s gripe with the appointment of Danini Contreras, daughter of Minister of Trade Erwin Contreras, as the Director of the Drug Inspectorate.
“While I understand the concerns of the Pharmacy Association, I believe the Ms. Contreras is qualified,” Barrow said, emphasizing that the only way she would get the required work experience is to operate in the post.
“We will have to continue with the difference of opinion,” he concluded.
Speaking on the court judgement which requires GOB to seek free, prior and informed consent from the Maya communities, Barrow explained that GOB is within its rights to not make any deals with the Sarstoon Temash Institute of Indigenous Management.
“SATIIM is an NGO, therefore, government has no legal obligation to do business with them,” Barrow said.
He added that GOB is committed to oil exploration, even within the Sarstoon Temash National Park because of the benefits it will bring to the country on a whole.
The Prime Minister also addressed the Hon. Mark King’s now famous “I serve UDPs first” comment, saying that while he wishes King had not said it, the reality is that Belizean politics is structured after the “spoils” system and it is a fact that politicians seek to satisfy their supporters first.
Barrow said, however, that while that system has existed from time immemorial, it is not the official policy of the UDP.
“The official policy of the UDP is that we will not discriminate, we will treat all Belizeans equally.”
Barrow added that he would like to see the political climate that fostered King’s statement change; however, he does not find it likely that such a change would occur.
The Prime Minister reiterated that the quarterly press conferences will continue as originally scheduled.