Oct 23, 2015 News
…as Red Thread continues protests
By: Kiana Wilburg
Not a single sound was made, and not a tantrum was thrown by the political opposition yesterday in the National Assembly on the salary increases for Members of Parliament (MPs) which it had vociferously deemed to be illegal.
This behaviour was in stark contrast to the steam the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) was blowing on the matter during the lead up to the reconvening of Parliament.
The Party sent out statements left, right and centre over the past two weeks voicing its disapproval of the APNU+AFC government’s decision to give its ministers and other MPs a salary bump. It even notified the media of its intention to overturn the ministerial order which allows for its members to receive increases too.
In fact, on October 19, last, the Opposition issued a statement signaling its unequivocal rejection of these salary increases as well as expressed its intention to lay a motion in the National Assembly, seeking to reverse and annul all the salary increases which were the subject of an Order of the Minister of Finance issued under Ministers, Members Of The National Assembly And Special Offices (Emoluments) Act.
But the Party’s behaviour yesterday could be deemed “out of character” when compared to how it reacts to other controversial matters.
During the 2015 budget debates, the political opposition held press briefings almost every chance it got within the parliamentary chambers to voice its concerns when mere parliamentary protocol was not obeyed by the Government MPs.
Even at the end of the budget debates, Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo rose to his feet to set the record straight within the house of democracy that government erred in several areas on the budget. He spoke for almost 20 minutes.
But for some reason, this approach was not adopted yesterday. Jagdeo did not make any official statement in the House on the salary increases, a matter which they claimed they found to be utterly reprehensible.
The Party had noted on Tuesday that several PPP/C Members of Parliament received by hand, their pay slips from the Parliament Office for the month of October, 2015. To their surprise, they observed that they have been paid salary increases. They said that this was done notwithstanding the fact that the Leader of the Opposition and indeed, several Members of Parliament of the PPP/C, have stated publicly nearly two weeks ago that they will not be accepting this increase in their salaries.
But while the PPP claims that it will not accept the increases, Kaieteur News consulted a senior official at Parliament Buildings—the authority that is responsible for making salary payments to Members of Parliament—and was told that the body is bound to make the payments, taking into account the Ministerial Order that authorized the increases.
The Parliament will be making the payments this month, in keeping with the Ministerial Order, signed and Gazetted by Minister of State, Joseph Harmon. The salary increases were published in the Official Gazette of September 25.
This publication was told that opposition Members of Parliament simply cannot say they will not be accepting an increase in salary and that Parliament will abide with its wishes.
The Parliament is bound to act in accordance with the Ministerial Order, dictating that increases be paid to each member of the Executive and Legislature ranging from as little as five per cent to 50 per cent.
However, in order to challenge the Ministerial Order, it will first have to be laid after which any member of the assembly will have 21 days within which to move a motion to either amend the Order or annul it altogether.
The motion if successfully tabled and approved will still have to be debated and voted on in the National Assembly.
The coalition A Partnership for National Unity plus Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Government commands 33 of the 65 seats in the National Assembly with the PPP holding 32. Given the voting strength of the Government, the successful passage of the PPP’s motion is unlikely.
Meanwhile, just outside the Public Buildings yesterday, members of the non-governmental organization, RED thread armed themselves with placards which made known their condemnation of the salary increases.
One of the RED Thread representatives who spoke with Kaieteur News said, “We will not stop until the government understands that this salary increase is absolutely insensitive and unjust to the people of this nation. They gave us crumbs for increases while they increased the size of their pockets. Maybe if one of them had to survive on a $50,000 salary when the month comes, then they would realize how much magic the public servants have to do in order to survive.
“The Finance Minister is saying that the salary increase was necessary because he had to fix these “anomalies” in the system, I wonder if the PPP had done this while they were in power if they would have been as understanding. And what about fixing the anomaly of closing the gap between the poor and the rich? That doesn’t count?”
The members of the non-governmental organization said that the salary increases can be invested into other programmes which would benefit the nation.
Red Thread activists during the protests circulated position papers, which claim that reversing the salary increases can save $132M that can be used on other initiatives to improve the lives of average Guyanese citizens.
Instead of making salary increases, the entity is proposing that the government invest in several initiatives which include employing 220 psycho-social counselors for schools in Guyana at a minimum wage of $50,000 for 12 months; pay for 5,500 meals for school children costing $2,000 per meal for 12 months; make an additional 1,200 boats available for transporting children to school; and pay for the construction of 26 turn-key low income homes at a cost of $5M per house.
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