Reference is being made to Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan’s 18th November 2018 letter, which is a response to my article “Local Government Elections, though disappointing, were not unexpected” (KN 18th November 2018).
It is unfortunate as the Minister attempted to fact check me, and had his views distributed via the Department of Public Information, that he apparently did not think it worthwhile to ask of the said department to fact check him before placing same in the public domain. Was this fundamental element considered, the undermentioned “facts” below as stated by him, could have been corrected.
Fact 1: – “President David Arthur Granger has not benefited from any salary increase since coming to Office.”
The truth is, on 18th November 2015, the Government issued a statement, via Director of Public Information, Imran Khan, which said, “His Excellency President David Granger received a 5% salary increase.” For easy and credible reference refer to the state-owned Guyana Chronicle, 19th November 2015 article “Jagdeo, Ramotar received tax free salaries.”
Fact 2: – “The Prime Minister (PM) benefited from a one-time, very small (5%) increase in salary in 2015. When the Coalition Government acceded to Office, it found that the salary of the Attorney General (AG) was not only tax-free, but it was also higher than the Prime Minister’s salary. To correct this anomaly, the Prime Minister’s salary was adjusted slightly above the AG’s salary. Please note however, that unlike the AG, the PM pays income tax.”
The truth is, in this instance it is being acknowledged the PM received an increase. Further, it must be noted that the rationale for the AG receiving a higher salary than the PM has its genesis the era of the Forbes Burnham Government, where this emolument was made to attract the best legal mind to head the Attorney General’s Chamber. To now just look at it as an “anomaly” without taking on board the history and context for same undercuts the spirit and intent of its originality.
Fact 3: – “The salaries of Cabinet Ministers, Speaker of the National Assembly and Leader of the Opposition were increased by 50 percent; those of junior Ministers by a lesser percentage; and those of the other Parliamentarians by an even lesser percentage.”
The truth is – Fact 1, 2 and 3 are consistent with my statement that, “The administration should not forget that the 50 percent and other increases paid to the President, his ministers and all the parliamentarians, in less than six months coming to office….” (Eye on Guyana with Lincoln Lewis – “Local Government Elections, though disappointing, were not unexpected”- KN 18th November 2018)
The public is invited to objectively judge, having read the above, whether the Minister’s position that my article is “the triumph of propaganda and ‘fake news’ over truth,” has merit. It is becoming more evident that within the coalition government the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing (or saying), or none dares/cares to check the other and collectively save themselves unnecessary embarrassment.
Now to what the Minister described as the, “second erroneous assertion of Mr. Lewis is the following: ‘Taking away the subsidies in water and electricity from this vulnerable constituent that lives on significant reduced income (pension), remains heartless.’” There is an admittance by the Minister that these subsidies “were incorporated (not removed) into the pension.”
The Minister is the politician. I’m the trade unionist. You don’t take away or incorporate a benefit; what you do, is to seek to maintain the benefit, but find ways and means to have those that are eligible receive same. The fact that the subsidies are no longer identified separately as was done previously, they are considered as being taken away.
In addressing my statement that the low turnout by the Disciplined Services had to do with the removal of the yearend bonus of a one-month salary, another fundamental factor eluded the Minister. This issue is not about increase in pay and what the PPP/C Government did in its manipulation in paying increases in wages and salaries; it is about a year-end bonus. This is the subject. Bonus, whether put in by the employer or agreed to by the parties, becomes a condition of service. The removal of same has to be agreed upon by the parties.
In my traverse to and from home I would pass at least three police stations and often meet these officers in the communities. They have been continuously expressing their dissatisfaction over the removal of the bonus, which I wrote about before. If government had a concern that the bonus was only benefitting one group in the public sector and its intention was to bring about parity across the entire sector, the act ought to have been to make all recipients, i.e. pay the bonus across the board and don’t even consider reducing or removing it.
Adding insult to an injured position, the Minister found it “nauseating” that in articulating a demotivator, by a demographic, in voting is equivalent to an easy and callous sacrifice for the proverbial “40 pieces of silver.”
I would not want to believe the Minister is a callous thinker or writer. The reference to “40 pieces of silver” is grounded in the Holy Bible and has to do with the story of Judas betraying Jesus, which is treated with reverence by believers of the faith. To assert, explicitly or implicitly, that those members of Disciplined Services who withheld their votes is tantamount to betrayal is an insult and taking a lot for granted.
No group or party owns the vote of any group or individual. However, if the Disciplined Services is considered a reliable constituent there is corresponding responsibility to treat them with dignity and respect.
To the Minister’s reference to salary increases, while not relevant to the present discourse, it ought to be said that the process by which these increases were made is in conflict with the principles of Collective Bargaining. This administration came to office on a campaign promise to restore Collective Bargaining and has reneged on it. The trade unions had to fight or are fighting tooth and nail to have same respected.
To boast of paying increases with no regard for the principles that should undergird same is a display of contempt for the fundamental dignity and respect of others. It is hoped the promise of future increases will see departure from imposition and realise the beginning of constructive engagement with the trade unions.
The bonus, subsidies and salaries issues are not about numbers. They are about upholding established and time-honoured principles and noting the responses of the citizenry to the treatment and decisions of the government in these regards. The concern in this society is that the coalition is not prepared to take on board concerns raised by the citizenry and seek to address them to the satisfaction of the people. What is instructive is that the politicians believe that whatever decision they make must be accepted by the people, regardless of the circumstances.
The concerns raised in that Eye on Guyana article emanated from various groups in society, and while I may be the author, I am not the originator of many of them. Governance is about attending to the people’s business, and those tasked the responsibility of managing same have a duty to listen to the people and their cries. To deny that the issues raised are not contributory factors to the poor turnout at the Local Government Elections, which resulted in a humiliating loss to APNU and the AFC, is tantamount to behaving like ostriches, burying their heads in the sand.
There has not been one justifiable reason given by the principal leaders of these groups as to the reason for the poor turnout and losses in many districts and their strongholds. Rather than taking on board the observations and put corrective measures in place to galvanise their base, some representatives of the government are taking serious umbrage to constructive criticism.
Having the opportunity of entering many of the villages on the East Coast Demerara and West Coast Berbice and walking around Georgetown, prior to the elections, many said they were not going to vote and stated their reasons why. Some of these were stated in the 18th November article. Conscious of the groundswell against voting, it informed my 11th November article, “Tomorrow is Local Government Election, Vote for…,” which called on people to vote.
2020 is a short period from now. The coalition leaders are urged to take note that their failure to accept that the course they are travelling is not embraced by a significant portion of their supporters. Unless they accept and review objectively the errors being identified by their supporters and members of civil society, including their opponents, they stand the chance of returning to the Opposition.
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