ON TUESDAY, May 10, 2016, debate on the Opposition motion of no-confidence against the Government started in the House of Assembly.
I must confess that I did not listen. However, from reports in the media, except CBC, it is my understanding that Leader of the Opposition Mia Mottley levelled a wide-ranging set of charges to justify her call for the removal of the Government.
She was on her feet for five hours outlining her case, which in my view was overkill. To my mind, there was one allegation that if proven to be correct would more than justify the Government’s removal from office. She revealed that the Government proposed to increase the salaries and allowances paid to parliamentarians by ten per cent.
The following day, I heard a news item on Starcom Network quoting Minister Stephen Lashley as saying that they did not get an increase in salary. My first reaction to those seemingly contradictory reports, was that they cannot both be telling the truth. At this stage, I was not prepared to allow anyone to prove anything to me. I had to find out for myself. I logged on to Parliament’s website only to find out that both were correct.
The website revealed that there are resolutions before the House of Assembly seeking approval of two orders made on April 15, 2016 by the Minister of Finance to change the salaries of parliamentarians. So far, Miss Mottley is truthful in this regard.
Section 5.(1) of the Ministers And Parliamentary Secretaries (Remuneration And Allowances) Act, Chapter 8 of the Laws of Barbados, empowers the Minister of Finance to make an order to increase or decrease those salaries. Section 5.(2) states, among other things, that the order is subject to affirmative resolution. That simply means that before the order can take effect it must be approved by both Houses of Parliament and assented to by the Governor General.
In our system of governance, a member of Cabinet must support anything that the Government brings to the House or resign. So unless there are resignations from Cabinet in the offing, the 13 members of the House who sit in Cabinet must vote “yes”. In order to defeat these resolutions both Mara Thompson and James Paul would have to vote with the members who do not support the Government. It can happen but that is hardly likely.
The next step in the process would be Senate approval. Government holds 12 of the 21 seats in the Senate. I, therefore, do not foresee a rebellion among Democratic Labour Party members in the Senate to defeat these resolutions.
Since the resolutions have not been approved in the House and Senate and assented to by the Governor General, MPs would be unable to draw their new salaries. So in effect, Minister Lashley is also telling the truth.
Since 2013 Government has reduced its workforce by approximately 6 000. To date, many of those workers have not seen one red cent in severance pay. In addition, Government has not seen it fit to even give vacation pay to former workers of Beautify Barbados. Mind you, if those workers were in the private sector, the Chief Labour Officer would have brought the employers before the court for failing to pay holiday pay. Incidentally, legal proceedings in such matters must be filed within a year of the holiday pay becoming due.
In light of all the suffering and deprivation that Government has inflicted on the most vulnerable in this society, how can Government MPs muster enough gall to even consider a proposal to increase the salaries of parliamentarians?
This administration has deprived 6 000 public workers of 100 per cent of their salaries and then made a token sacrifice of ten per cent of theirs.
They are now seeking to reclaim the ten per cent that they lost. What about the 6 000 who went home?
Caswell Franklyn is the general secretary of Unity Workers Union and a social commentator. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org