Minister of Finance responds to Lincoln Lewis

November 18, 2018

Mr.  Adam Harris

Editor

Kaietuer News

24 Saffon Street, Charlestown

GEORGETOWN

Dear Editor,

I refer to article by Lincoln Lewis, which appeared in Kaieteur News, Sunday, November 18, 2018, under the caption “Local Government Elections, though disappointing to some, were not unexpected”. Ordinarily, I would have read the article and moved on – this being a very busy time in the calendar of the Ministry of Finance. But Mr. Lewis’ article contained a number of assertions that warrant an immediate response.

Mr Lewis claimed, “ 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, …” This claim has been made before, on several occasions, and has been refuted by the Government, repeatedly. That it continues to be said by none other than a seasoned labour leader, convinces me of the triumph of propaganda and ‘fake news’ over truth. Here are some simple facts:

Fact 1: President David Arthur Granger has not benefited from any salary increase since coming to Office.

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.

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.

I wish to reiterate that the increases granted in 2015 were one-off increases. No further increase in the salaries of Parliamentarians is contemplated for this term of Office of the Coalition Government.

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.”

Fact: On entering Office in May 2015, we found the following discriminatory situation: only 30 percent and 62 percent of 42,397 pensioners were benefiting from the electricity and water subsidies, respectively. This is because the pensioner had to have both electricity and water metres in his/her name – a problem for many, especially those in indigenous, hinterland and rural areas. After 23 years of encountering discrimination of all kinds, under the previous government, the Coalition Government decided to bring a swift end to this policy. The decision was that all pensioners must benefit from the subsidies. So, the subsidies were incorporated (not removed) into the pension, which was increased by 30 percent, from $13,125 to $17,000. Today, old age pension stands at $19,500 and will be increased again, in the upcoming budget.

The next assertion of Mr. Lewis that caught my attention was the following: “I note the date designated for the Disciplined Services to vote recorded low turnout. I have written before about the error on the part of the coalition in removing the year-end bonus (i.e. one-month salary) this category of workers enjoyed for several years.”

Fact: For many years, the previous administration had adopted the practice of paying less to public sector workers, so as to retain an amount to pay year-end bonus to workers of the Disciplined Services, only. Recall that the standard wage increase was 5 percent per annum, resulting in the paltry minimum wage of $39,570, in 2015. But a higher percentage would have been budgeted to pay increases to all workers across-the-board. The difference in the two percentages was used to finance the one-month bonus to the Disciplined Services.  Even in cases where funds remained after paying the bonus, the previous administration refused to use them to pay the other public sector workers, preferring to return them to the Treasury.

I do not recall Mr. Lewis condemning this practice. In fact, I do not recall any labour leader vociferously and consistently voicing their objection to this naked attempt to divide the workers. Instead of being condemned in the strongest possible terms by Mr. Lewis, yet another discriminatory practice of the previous administration is being heralded by him.

The Coalition Government has clearly enunciated that all workers must benefit, if there are excess resources that can be shared. Hence, in 2015 and 2016, all workers benefited from the payment of bonuses of $50,000 and $25,000, respectively. Since 2017, we have had to grapple with financial challenges that have precluded the payment of bonus. However, we have paid salary increases beyond the “5 percent”, such that the minimum wage has rapidly increased by nearly 52 percent in 2 years, from $39,570, in 2015, to $60,000, in 2017. It took the PPP/C Administration 9 years to move the minimum wage by a similar percentage, or from $26,070, in 2006 to $39,570, in 2015. All workers can expect salary increases, going forward, especially in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

Editor, I found particularly nauseating, Mr. Lewis’ attempt to connect the lower voter turnout by the Disciplined Services to the ending of the one-month bonus. I firmly believe that our hard fought right to vote cannot be so easily and callously sacrificed for the proverbial “40 pieces of silver”.  Workers need to know that robbing them of their rightful increase in wages, in order to pay them a bonus, robs them of a higher pension and gratuity since those are calculated based on your gross salary, which does not include a bonus.

Yours faithfully,

Hon. Winston Jordan, MP

Minister of Finance

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