A leaked letter from Cabinet Secretary Stuart Leslie informed all public-sector chief executive officers (CEOs) that their salaries “remain as recommended in May 2020”, a point in time when, according to Public Service Union (PSU) President Dean Flowers, there was no salary cut; thereby, effectively reversing this year’s 10% reduction for CEOs, an act the unions say is inconsistent with promised ‘sacrifices’ articulated during earlier negotiations.
For completeness, the full letter, dated July 2nd, reads: “Dear CEOs, Cabinet has approved that all Chief Executive Officers’ salaries and allowances remain as recommended in May 2020 with no further cuts. Chief Executive Officers please liaise with your finance officers to ensure that the proper salaries and allowances are reflected in your payroll.
Leslie explained to The Reporter on Thursday that the letter was simply to correct an error. He said that the holiday, gratuity, allowances and pension benefits for all CEOs were cut in May of 2020, under the previous administration. When the People’s United Party (PUP) took office, Prime Minister John Briceño had informed the CEOs that their salaries would remain in place.
Nevertheless, Leslie explained, when the 10% salary cut was implemented in June, somehow the salaries of CEOs were also cut. So now, in addition to their salaries reverting to what it was in May of 2020, CEOs are entitled to getting back the 10% that was deducted from their salaries last month.
“No CEO is making a dollar more than what they were making under the last administration,” Leslie added. “Like the teachers, we [CEOs] have contracts too that state that we are entitled to these benefits, but we volunteered to take these cuts.”
Consistent with Leslie’s explanation, the records will show that neither the Belize Constitution (Public Service Emoluments and Allowances) (Reduction) Regulations, 2021, nor the Public Sector Emoluments and Allowances Act, 2021—the two pieces of legislation that authorized the salary cuts—speak to CEOs being included in the 10% salary cut.
The Regulations target “any person appointed under section 106 of the Belize Constitution and includes teachers employed at a government school and government open vote workers”; therefore, it does not speak to CEOs as they are appointed under section 107 of the Constitution of Belize.
In terms of the Public Sector Emoluments and Allowances Act, section 3 and the Schedule for this law is specifically aimed at the heads of the security forces; namely, the Commissioner of Police, Belize Defense Force’s Commander, and the Coast Guards Commandant. It also targets the emoluments of the Comptroller of Customs, Judicial and Legal Officers, Ministers of Government, Officers in the Security Services, and the Solicitor General.
The Unions’ Take
The Reporter also spoke with the presidents of the PSU and the Association of Public Service Senior Managers (APSSM) for their views on the adjustment. PSU President Dean Flowers said he was “outraged” and “disappointed” at the reversal. He likewise reminded that back in May 2020, as was announced via Circular No. 5 of 2020, there was no salary cut. This point was likewise outlined in a statement by then Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow, who, inter alia, stated:
“In the case of heads of departments and other senior public officers, they have reached the top of their scales and so they get no increments. Accordingly, they are being asked to give up half of their entertainment allowances. CEO’s are to sacrifice five percent of their gratuity and a portion of their allowances. And all other contract officers are similarly to give up some gratuity and some allowances.”
APSSM President and Chief Magistrate Sharon Frazer explained that when the discussions started on austerity measures, there was an “understanding” that everybody who is paid from the public purse should make a sacrifice, including the CEOs.
Nevertheless, the Chief Magistrate did agree that the legal technicalities are important. “He [the Cabinet Secretary] might very well be right in saying that we could not insist on cuts for persons who are on contract. … Nevertheless, [during the negotiations] there was some undertaking that everybody would have made a sacrifice.”
It is on that understanding of a “sacrifice” that has led the PSU President to describe the reversal being communicated via the Cabinet Secretary’s letter as “hypocritical”.