Activists incensed at Westford over rude gesture

Several social activists picketed outside the office of Public Service Minister Jennifer Westford on Thursday over Wednesday’s mass protest of Public Service workers and were upset at the treatment meted out to them by the minister.

Activist Mark Benschop accused the minister of “wiggling her backside at us” in from of her office.

“The display was un-ministerial like. In fact, she came down and she modelled and she turned around and wiggled her butt in our direction”, an angry Benschop told this newspaper.

Minister Jennifer Westford during the confrontation with Freddie Kissoon (backing the camera) and other activists. (AFC photo)

Efforts by Stabroek News to contact the minister for a response proved futile.

Benschop said he is in solidarity with the others not because of political affiliations but he is there because he is an activist for those workers who are afraid to come out and say that they went out to protest under duress.

“I’m out here to represent those workers who are fearful for their jobs and had to go out there reluctantly to pretend as though they were protesting and as though harm will be done to them when in fact there is no harm to be done to them,” he said.

Benschop told Stabroek News that from his understanding, the motion tabled in Parliament by AFC Member of Parliament Khemraj Ramjattan was to have the “fat cats and those contracted workers sitting in their offices doing nothing and are being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars at the end of the month to be looked and cut to deserved proportions”. He added that nowhere in Ramjattan’s proposal did it say cut the jobs of the ordinary people and that ministers and permanent secretaries are misleading the workers about the AFC’s stand on the budget cuts.

AFC member Gerhard Ramsaroop said the budget cuts will not affect the ordinary people and what they are trying to do is to have the Value Added Tax cut so that the poor will benefit and he dismissed Minister of Finance Ashni Singh’s explanation that if VAT is cut the poor will not benefit.

Ramsaroop told this newspaper that what they are advocating for is a professionalized and well paid public service and it must be done through the normal channels.

“The PPP has imposed this massive contract system… which is demoralizing the public service and we are here standing in solidarity with the workers…  the ministers do not want the VAT to be cut because they want to continue with their high lifestyles. They also want the highly paid contract workers to continue doing their bidding and so that they can control them,” Ramsaroop said.

Also expressing his disgust with what he said was the coercion of workers by the government was social activist Freddie Kissoon who said that any credible economist will tell the finance minister what he is proposing is blatant nonsense and the poor will indeed benefit by a reduction in VAT.

“What he [Singh] is doing is called ‘donkey cart theory’ because the poor will actually benefit because it will mean less strain on their pockets,” Kissoon said.

He gave a graphic example of the ‘donkey cart theory’ saying that the poor people of Guyana cannot buy vehicles because of the heavy taxation and if VAT is reduced they will benefit tremendously.

He said that the demonstration is to open the eyes of the contract workers so that they can advocate for themselves to become members of the public service and ensure that they are well paid.

“What they did with the budget is a very nasty Machiavellian thing, they collapsed all the contract workers in one category and by putting all the workers in one category they are telling people that if the opposition vote against the contract workers ordinary people will lose their jobs but there are people with super salaries and we want those people’s salaries to be cut,” he added.

Michael Carrington, AFC member, said that his greatest concern is the constant hiring of contracted workers who are fearful of being terminated if they go against the government and as a result of that they carry out the government’s agenda.

He added that there are many contracted workers who are being paid above their qualifications and as such his party is seeking to have those salaries cut and the ones of those being paid below the minimum bar raised.

APNU member Malcolm Harripaul said the protest was “reminiscent of the early 1970s and 80s when, during a dictatorship, state and governmental workers were forced to take the streets and protest and the PPP has now emulated the PNC in that respect.”

He told Stabroek News when the budget was looked at by his party they noted that the government failed to provide resources to the important sectors such as security, education and health which means that the country should look forward to “another cycle of lawlessness and pervading crime of ignorance out of the education system and poor health services.”

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