Opposition insists billions available to pay increased wages, salaries

Last Updated on Friday, 9 February 2024, 15:33 by Denis Chabrol

Retired Rear Admiral Dr Gary Best

The opposition A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) on Friday insisted that GY$20 billion in the 2024 National Budget could be redirected to pay increased wages and salaries to teachers and other government employees, refuting claims by Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo that the treasury cannot afford to pay more sustainably.

People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) Executive Member Dr Gary Best said that those areas could be sources of funds. “The pathway out is finding the money, obviously, on increasing the teachers’ salaries. These are decisional matters. It is a decision that led to the budget, a decision by the PPP government that led to the budget and the same PPP can arrive at different decisions that can clear the money to pay the teachers,” he told Demerara Waves Online News from the picket line outside the Ministry of Labour.

Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton on Thursday calculated that at least GY$20 billion could be shaved off from other budgeted expenses to pay the educators increased salaries.

Dr Best said Mr Jagdeo, in “the least of his scholarly preparations”, attempted to defend the current wage package for government-employed teachers by confining his arguments to the budgeted amount for education rather than examining the proposed expenditure for infrastructure. “We can reduce the infrastructure spending and use that money in a tamed manner for recurrent expenditure and pay teachers a much better salary so that’s my disappointment with his explanation,” said Dr Best, a retired Rear Admiral who served as Chief-of-Staff under the People’s Progressive Party Civic administration.

As the strike ended Day 5 on Friday without any inkling that government was willing to now negotiate with the Guyana Teachers Union for  increased salaries and allowances or open the door to conciliation through the Chief Labour Officer, the PNCR official said he was sure that there was room for legal action against the government. “In any democracy, there is always a way for legal action when it comes to peoples’ rights. That is where we have to go: the right to work, the right to be remunerated. All those are enshrined rights in the Constitution and, therefore, all the political actors we have out there now may have to bring to bear, perhaps within a constitutional court or perhaps a breach in the current relationship between the two,” he said.

Dr Best could not immediately say which of the Articles of Guyana’s Constitution is justiciable but all such supreme laws have “room to go after natural rights.”  He challenged President Irfaan Ali to let his position on the pay demands be known as he had been very silent on the issue.

Mr Norton said, by his reckoning, GY$20 billion could be redirected “towards improving lives without imposing undue strain on budget”.
He publicly proposed via the media that:

  • $38 million from Refreshment and Meals, leaving the government with $504 million for  this purpose. 
  • $2.7 billion from Dietary expenditures, allowing the government to still spend $10.7  billion for dietary needs. 
  • $486 million from National and Other Events, providing the government with $1.7 billion  for such occasions.
  • $8 billion from other miscellaneous expenses, leaving $20 billion for the government to  address unforeseen costs. 
  • $2 billion from the Electricity budget line, enabling the government to still spend $7 billion  for electricity-related expenses. 
  • $2 billion from Print and Non Print materials, leaving the government with $3B for this  line item.  
  • $780M from Fuel and Lubricant allowing the government to still have more than $5B to  use for travelling purposes

At his press conference later Thursday, Vice President Jagdeo disagreed with Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton’s recommendation earlier Thursday that more than GY$20 billion could be redirected to wages and salaries. Mr Jagdeo did not deal with Mr Norton’s entire list of budgetary allocations, but said cash for print and non-print is for textbook; fuel and lubricants is for drainage and irrigation, and dietary is for school feeding.

No mention was made of Mr Norton’s recommendation that GY$38 million of the GY$504 million for refreshments; GY$486 million from GY$1.7 billion for national and other events; GY$8 billion from GY$20 billion for miscellaneous; and GY$2 billion from GY$7 billion for electricity related expenses be used for wages and salaries.

Mr Jagdeon Thursday signaled that government could not afford to pay teachers higher salaries now as planners needed to ensure that government’s salary bill was sustainable. “Your revenue has to sustain it in a long-term way to be sustainable and countries manage for sustainability,” he told a news conference. “A wage policy has to grow in accordance with affordability,” he added.

Government has deemed the strike politically motivated and has since stopped the automatic deduction and remitting of membership dues to the GTU.