The Chamber of Commerce and Industry today, responded to comments made by Minister of Education, Hon. Patrick Faber, at Wednesday’s Special Sitting of the House of Representatives.
Minister Faber criticized the Chamber for its support of the BNTU, who is hosting countrywide rallies to bring awareness to issues of national interests and to advocate for a salary adjustment, which says GOB is in the pipeline. Hon. Faber challenged the Chamber to keep its nose out of Government business and to instead, focus on stimulating the economy of the private sector. For content, we revisit the Minister’s remarks.
“But Mr. Speaker, coming back to the Chamber, I find it strange that they would say to the Government that you can give this raise if you better manage yourselves, and if you give the raise because there is this cost of living that adjustment that is needed, give the raise.
Well, Mr. Speaker, if they are going to ask for a raise for the public servants, I am going to ask for a raise for the private sector/all the workers who work out there, Mr. Speaker! If they think that the government can afford a raise for the public servants, then why is it that they can’t afford to raise the minimum wage and raise the salaries of all the other Belizeans who are not working in the public sector? Let’s have that discussion.
But you see, Mr. Speaker, they don’t want to have that discussion. When we have that discussion, there will be problems. Do you know why? They no want these people to get a raise; if there is such a cost of living adjustment that’s needed, give those people a raise too; let’s talk about how we can raise the minimum wage, and even if you don’t raise the minimum wage, get your businesses to hike up the pay of these individuals.
But even if that is not the case, Mr. Speaker, every Belizean knows (staying with the Chamber), that one of the major reasons why the prices of the commodities and services in this country is so very high, is not because the government does not try. Look, the Prime Minister brought legislation to the House to zero rate so many goods. How I get them, mek ah tel yu: because if the private sector, if the Chamber of Commerce really wants to give people a break, they will ride those businesses that continue to chance the Belizean people by charging them.
You see, I said to the nation, the Chamber should not interfere in business that does not concern them; if that is the case, then, I neva tel dih Chamber nottin’. The Chamber said, interfering the business of the teachers and they will support the teachers and I am the Minister of Education under which the teachers fall if that is the case”.
After seeing the Minister’s outburst, the Chamber says it felt compelled to clarify its press release issued on January 17, where it stated its support for the teachers. The Chamber affirms,
“In that release, we advocated for a phased-in approach to increases in teacher’s wages, based on responsible financial management principles. The object of a merit-based increase is to motivate our teachers to consistently improve, which will only serve to better our country and our future generations. In these times of widespread poverty and illiteracy, we can no longer afford to skimp on education.”
“Hon. Faber has severely criticized the Chamber for daring to support the teachers in their demand for a wage increase. We find this alarming in a constitutional democracy which should encourage freedom of speech.”
In response to accusing the private sector of underpaying its employees, while overcharging the public, the Chamber explains,
“Aside from noting the evils of generalizing, whether it be about politicians, public servants, or the private sector, our response is that businesses that are good corporate citizens pay a disproportionate amount of taxes, leaving a diminished amount of resources with which to create jobs and pay employees. In addition, those disproportionate taxes cause the citizens of Belize to pay higher prices on goods and services because they directly and severely impact the cost of doing business.”
It is these disproportionate taxes, states the Chamber, that contributes to the majority of the Government’s wage bill and for this reason, the Chamber cannot support the notion of an across-the-board public sector wage increase, but reiterate that good performance must be rewarded if they are to continue to see improved performance. The Chamber ends the release by saying,
“Attempts by a Minister to insult and threaten the largest taxpaying group in the country because he had not carefully read our press release is certainly not the wisest course of action for healthy partnership and development. In the 33rd year of our independence, we can and must do better as a country.”
The Chamber also commented on the situation involving Minister Edmund Castro and the Belize Airport Authority. We’ll have those remarks a bit later on in the newscast.