Below is an opinion piece written by Member of Parliament, Attorney-at-Law and Former Attorney General Mohabir Anil Nandlall
“Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child and one teacher can change the world”-Malala Yousafzai (2013).
Our teachers are being forced to take strike actions as a result of the failure of the Government to meet their demands for an increased remuneration package. The five-year multi-year salary increase agreement executed under the PPP/C government came to an end in 2015.
This Administration has obstinately refused to enter into a new one. Instead, they requested patience from the teachers while they establish a Task Force for this purpose to examine the issue and make recommendations. The recommendations came from the Task Force but the Government has failed to act upon those recommendations. This is reminiscent of the Commission of Inquiry established by the Government to examine the sugar industry. When the Report from this COI recommended no closure of any sugar estate, the Government repudiated it.
Shred of the superfluous, the teachers’ demands are quite simple. They are asking the Government to implement the recommendations of its own Task Force and they have expressed the compromised position of being willing to negotiate those recommendations with the Government with a view of forging an amicable resolution to this impasse. The Government has unreasonably rejected both positions, thus far.
During the 2015 elections campaign, the APNU/AFC promised teachers a remuneration package more superior than the multi-year contract executed under the PPP Government. This is the latest of a long list of salaries and wages increases promises broken by the APNU/AFC. I can advert to similar promises made to the sugar workers, the public servants, the police, the nurses; and now the teachers. They have delivered on none of these promises. What they did deliver, though, to themselves, was a 50% increase in salaries – a promise never publicly made.
The Government’s position is that it cannot afford the increase demanded by our teachers. I emphatically reject this position. I can point to several sources of funding within the Government for this increase without it costing a cent more to the treasury. I will highlight a few:
- the 18 million USD signing bonus which the Government unlawfully refused to deposit in the Consolidated Fund and has invested it in some unknown place;
- the cancellation of the Sussex Street drugs bond which continues to cost the State 12.5 million GYD per month;
- trimming dietary expenditures in Government. (2014 $3.6B; 2018 $5.2B = $1.6B increase);
- reducing expenditures under the budgetary heading “national and other events”(2014 $477M; 2018 $911M = $434M increase);
- slashing monies spent on local and international travels by the President and Ministers, including the reduction of per diem allowances;
- dismantle the policy which allows Ministers to take spouse on overseas trips at the expense of taxpayers;
- scale down on the excessive numbers of Commission of Inquiries each of which gobbles up dozens of millions of dollars;
- scrapping the hiring of private prosecutors as it has already turned out to be an utter waste of public funds;
- reduce the number of international meetings and conferences hosted by the government, especially the Attorney General, who has hosted a remarkable number of these events, simply to redeem his dismal performance in office;
- significantly decrease public expenditures under the nebulous budgetary line item of “other.” (2014 $1.8B; 2018 $2.6B = $800M increase)
If the aforementioned recommendations are implemented forthwith, the Government will have more than sufficient money to pay our teachers, which is a million times more important than any of the matters listed above for which public funds are being squandered.
In any event, it is excruciatingly difficult for the rational mind to accept that the Government cannot find the money to pay our teachers. After decrying in May, 2015, that they inherited an empty treasury, they still found money by September, 2015, to pay themselves a 50% increase in salary retroactive to the 1st of June of that year! The situation is exacerbated by the fact that this is a Government with the highest number of Vice-Presidents and more Ministers than any other Government in the world.
I am in no doubt that with a population of 750,000, we have the highest ratio of minister – per capita on planet earth. Moreover, the Government boasts of presenting the largest budgets ever. They further claim that the PPP Government stole 25% of the annual budget every year, so unless they are stealing more, they ought to be saving approximately 50 billion per year since 2015.
Additionally, they have imposed over 200 new tax measures including VAT on a number of items which were zero rated including, water and electricity, thus raking in billions more than the PPP Government ever did. They have also made spectacular savings as a result of the reduction in oil prices on the world market since 2015, which they have refused to pass down to the consumer. I can go on but I think the point is made.
Against this backdrop, how can one accept the Government’s plea that there is no money to pay our teachers? One of their flogging horses was the sugar industry. In the past, they blamed the sugar industry for not being in a position to pay increase in wages to the public sector employees. Well that excuse is no longer available. They have closed the sugar industry. Now they are even refusing to pay the sugar workers their severance pay which they promised to do.
This severance pay was expected by the beleaguered sugar workers to equip their children for the new school year, beginning next week. Their hopes were dashed.
Fortunately, most of these children will be able to go to school next week, (provided of course that the teachers call off their strike), only because of the philanthropic intervention of the PPP, the business community and a number of individuals.
I must add that one third of any increase in salaries paid to the teachers goes back to the treasury in the form of PAYE. So, in effect, the treasury would only be directly losing two thirds of what the teachers would be paid.
The APNU/AFC campaigned heavily on the platform of creating a better life for our young people.
The record will reflect that this Government by-passed qualified young people for important appointments and job opportunities across the public sector, in favour of many who have long passed pensionable age.
Indeed, the President is on record as saying that the Government is not in the business of creating jobs but that young people can generate their own employment by selling plantain chips and cook-up rice.
Now, the fair demands of the moulders and shapers of the young and impressionable minds of our children for a livable wage are being denied by this Government. In the end, it is not only our teachers who are suffering, but so would our children.