FRANKLY SPEAKING: A word to the wise, PM Stuart
A friend of mine said to me that he has noticed that my columns and contributions on the call-in programmes are overly critical of the Government; and that I hardly have anything to say about the performance of the Opposition.
I must admit that I have spent a lot of time pointing out the missteps of the current administration, but that is because it seems the Government never gets anything right. There are many more areas of ineptitude that I can comment on but I defer to others who are more competent. I therefore do not accept the criticism that I am overly critical of the Government; if anything I hold back.
On the other hand, I find it very difficult to criticise the actions of the Opposition when they hardly do anything but fight amongst themselves. Numerically, this is the strongest opposition that I can recall but its output makes it the most pathetic. I well remember the days between 1986 and 1991 when the Opposition in the lower House consisted of only three people: Henry Forde, David Simmons and Owen Arthur. Their efforts as Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition were far superior to what is now being passed off as an opposition.
What might appear to some as me being overly critical of the Government is just my way of filling the void that was created by the Opposition in Parliament and the country generally. I could be wrong but I have a feeling that the Opposition is waiting for the Government to crash and burn, and then the old Bajan saying, “before none any” would apply. I suspect that if they don’t get up off their rear ends they would be in for a surprise.
That said, I would now turn my attention to an article in the DAILY NATION of April 24, headlined, 10% Bite. After reading it, I have concluded that the Prime Minister is out of touch with reality or that he is unfazed by the suffering of the thousands of public sector workers who have been retrenched mainly because of the inability of the Government to adequately manage the economy.
The PM is quoted as saying, and I suspect with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, “The last time I saw my own payslip, I think I saw a reduction that lowers my standard of living.” His salary was reduced by $1 699.13 leaving him with the standard of living lowering sum of $19 802.12 per month, broken down as salary of $15 232.25 plus an entertainment allowance of $4 569.87. In addition, he gets a fully maintained car and a mansion, both of which do not attract any income tax. What is he saying to the workers who have lost 100 per cent of their salaries due in no small measure to the fact that the Government has severely mismanaged the economy?
His insensitive remarks did not stop there. In response to a question about the number of retrenched workers, he said: “The Government has budgetary objectives which it has to achieve and it is not the numbers as much as the achievement of the budgetary objectives that concern me as Prime Minister.” He went on to describe the focus on the numbers “an unfortunate diversion” that has caused Barbadians to lose sight of the real objective.
I would never have thought that any leader of this country would have allowed it to fall from his lips that persons going home, with no means to support their families, are “an unfortunate diversion”. He should consider that some of these “unfortunate diversions” are sole breadwinners of households with children to feed and bills to pay, as we were reminded by one of his Cabinet colleagues who claimed that he could not afford a pay cut.
In another unfortunate choice of words, the PM was quoted as saying that the National Conservation Commission was making sure that it did not dispose of its most able-bodied workers and was discussing the option of workers over the age of 60 retiring. To me that sounds too much like racehorse owners abandoning their animals after they had stopped winning races. Mind you, if I were one of the PM’s political opponents, I would say that it sounds like a good idea; after all, he is over 60.
More likely than not, the workers who are over 60 years of age would not have been employed since January 2008 when the DLP retook the reins of Government. However, the PM justified that decision by saying that under the Statutory Boards (Pensions) Act, the NCC was entitled to ask employees at age 60 to retire.
That act, at section 8 (1) and (2), states:
(1) A Board may require an officer in its service to retire at any time after he attains the age of 60 years.
(2) Retirement shall be compulsory for every officer to whom this act applies on attaining the age of 65 years.
However, the PM would have been wise to read on to the next section that was a subsequent amendment in 2004, which became effective on January 1, 2005, that gave existing employees the right to retire at age 67, should they choose to do so. It was inserted as section 8A. Some of these workers, being aware of the change, would have planned their retirement dates accordingly.
It is a stroke of supreme cruelty to dismiss this category of worker, who would be in the process of preparing for their retirement, to be suddenly and unexpectedly cast aside by a Government that refuses to honour its own policy of first in, last out. The 2004 amendment would have given them an expectation that they were entitled to rely upon.
Surely, the PM does not expect 60-year-olds to be readily absorbed in the workforce. They might very well have to apply for their National Insurance pensions early to keep body and soul together. If they do so, they would suffer a penalty. For example, a person who claims his/her NIS pension six years early would lose 36 per cent.
In closing, I would like to say to the members of the Government: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Verbum sat sapienti – a word to the wise is enough,.
• Caswell Franklyn is a trade unionist and social commentator.