WPA still to issue statement on ministerial salary hikes

Nearly three months after controversial salary increases for Cabinet ministers were unveiled, the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) is still to issue a formal statement on it.

There has been keen interest in what the party has to say on the scale of the increases as the WPA is one of the members of the ruling APNU+AFC coalition.

Historically, the party has always been vocal on issues pertaining to the working class and the increases -50% at the highest end – are likely to attract criticism of the type which has already been issued by its youth arm.

Furthermore, a key WPA leader, Dr Rupert Roopnaraine, the Minister of Education, would have had input in the decision to raise the salaries of Cabinet ministers and he is one of those who will benefit from the 50% increase.

Sources say there are divergent views in the WPA about how this and other issues related to the ruling coalition should be handled.

The executive of the WPA was to meet and discuss the hike in salaries for government ministers and other officials, according to the most recent word from the party on October 26. Its executive member Desmond Trotman had said then that the alliance supports the position of its youth arm, which among other things said it was dissatisfied with the method and timing of the increase.

Trotman, who was an APNU member of parliament in the last sitting of the National Assembly, had said the executive would be meeting during that week and a statement would be issued on the issue. No statement has been issued.

The increases were quietly gazetted without a public announcement in October after an initial denial in August that they were being considered. President David Granger along with members of his Cabinet including Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo have defended the pay hikes, which go as high as 50% for those in Cabinet, calling the move an investment in quality governance.

The administration has come under scathing criticism from a wide-cross section of Guyanese but it has stood firm on the issue. Protest actions have been mounted against the increases, particularly since the coalition had promised “significant increases” for public servants during its election campaign, but only delivered a 5% increase in its first national budget.

Accountant and attorney-at-law Christopher Ram, who is also President of the Guyana Bar Association has called on the WPA to speak on the issue since it is a party with a “deserved reputation for speaking out on issues of political morality, conflicts of interest, misuse of power and fairness to and for the working class.” He said if the party wants to restore its reputation it will have to do more than bear its “unhappiness in silence.”

In a letter in October, the youth arm of the WPA said that the electorate had expectations that the administration “would ensure that the needs of the people would be met before the needs of the individuals in power.

“From the perspective of the youth, the non-convening of the National Youth Council and National Youth Conference along with some other yet to be completed plans that were stipulated in the APNU+AFC Action Programme for the first 100 days, along with what some may call marginal increases to public servants salaries can be perceived as rewarding self while not accomplishing what was promised,” the youth arm said.

“We are of the firm belief that this decision and the method by which the public was made aware of it will leave a bitter taste to the mouths of many supporters of the government since it strays away from the many messages preached during the campaign season that dealt with real change, transparency and accountability”, the letter said.