PSU “not happy” with temporary freeze of public service allowances

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Members of the Public Service Union (PSU) working in San Pedro Town are not happy with the decision taken by the Ministry of Public Service and Election and Boundaries to freeze allowances for the month of September. The announcement was made on July 16th via an internal memorandum issued by the Chief Executive Officer Marian McNab. The freeze in allowances will affect rent (housing), hardship and vehicle allowances granted to public officers who work outside of their original place of employment.

According to the circular memorandum, the ministry along with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development will undertake a general review of all allowances currently received by public officers. “Allowances have proliferated overtime, some of which are no longer pertinent to the purpose for which they were initially approved. This has resulted in exorbitant costs to the government,” stated the memo.  But in order to facilitate the review process, all allowances will be frozen in the month of September, pending submission from the Head of Finance of each Ministries and Departments. Information must include the name of public officer, allowance received and the purpose/justification timeframe for the allowance.

PSU President, Marvin Blades

The Government of Belize (GOB) claims that they spend over $1.7 million in allowances per month. But according to the PSU President Marvin Blades, the biggest part of the allowance allocated by GOB is for contract workers and not established workers. In fact the freeze in allowance only applies to established workers and “does not apply to contract officers,” who in most instances are appointed by the political party in office. “Trust me it’s not our regular established workers getting all those allowances. They exclude contract officers and we have a serious problem with that. We believe that both contract and established worker allowances should be reviewed and then we can see where changes need to be made,” pointed out Blades.

Blades explained to The SP Sun that the PSU is not opposed to carrying out the exercise but they are “not happy” with the way it is done. “We asked for this review to be done since four years ago. We have no problem with GOB conducting the review of allowances. What we are saying is that we are not happy with the way it is done. In order to conduct an exercise there is no need to stop the process. After all it has been running for years without a review. In addition, why are they rushing this process in two months? We have 15 to 18 thousand workers and while not all are getting allowances, it’s a very good number of them that are receiving some sort of allowances and there is absolutely no way they can do a review in two months!” emphasized Blades.

One of the major concerns for public servants is the bureaucracy that exists in the flow of information from one level to the other and what is deemed a satisfactory explanation to their supervisor for public officers to be able to receive their respective allowances. What makes it even more frustrating is that while the allowances are frozen the bills will be mounting. “Our landlords don’t want to hear that we cannot pay rent for September because GOB froze our allowance awaiting proper justification. At the end of the month our landlord wants the rent to be paid with no excuses,” said a public servant attached to one of the government ministries on Ambergris Caye. In response to the concerns of the public servants Blades said, “We have indicated to GOB and in specific to Mrs. McNab both orally in meeting and via email, that we do not support the decision to freeze allowances until a review is completed. For that reason we are telling GOB, that two months is too short for the 22 or 23 ministries to come up with a list, review and make recommendation as to which public servants deserve allowances. We are of the possession that even before they make recommendation as to whom deserve allowances that the PSU see and view that list. We want to make sure that it is fair and transparent and ensure that due process was taken.

If after review of each individual allowance is approved to the public officer, it will be retroactive in October of 2012. For the duration that the allowances remain frozen, public officers who depend on housing/rent, hardship or vehicle to offset expenses as a result of their job placement will have to absorb that expense. Of the six funds available by the PSU, there are no benefits in place to assist public officers when allowances are frozen. Given the time frame and the inconvenience public servants will face as a result of the allowance freeze the union hopes that GOB will be able to expedite the process to ensure that no one is affected for more than one month if the need arises.

President Blades said that the PSU was never consulted or notified prior to the memo that was sent out. “If we would have been properly notified, the PSU would have advised them to do the review of allowances while the system continues to run. Don’t affect officers doing their job. Times are already hard as it is and for you to freeze the allowance of an officer who has worked hard for it, is not the right thing to do. That does not make any sense!” ended Blades.

The deadline for submission of the required information by each Ministries or Departments is Friday, August 17th. The onus to ensure that public servant allowances are entered and properly justified falls on the head/supervisor of each department before submitting it to the finance officer in each government ministry.

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