An election interview with promises for “fools” is how some residents are describing the outing of Prime Minister Gaston Browne, Sunday night, October 9, on State television.
Since Browne usually makes his policy and political announcements on his affiliated radio station, news of his TV interview took many persons by surprise. Accordingly, one woman speculates that his radio programme might not be giving him the reach he needs ahead of the General Elections.
During his interview, Browne “promised everything but the kitchen sink,” as a critic put it, as he sought to pacify public servants and the electorate with promises of back pay and salary increases; the long-outstanding reclassification of teachers; and an increase in the minimum wage.
All this is expected to happen before the constitutionally due March 2023 elections, which Browne has hinted, for more than a year, would be called early.
Browne says the Government is expecting a US$25 million draw-down from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), which he claims will be received in the next 30 to 60 days.
These funds, he says, have been earmarked for certain spending, including public servants’ increases.
However, Browne was unwilling to say by how much salaries and wages would be hiked. Instead, he says that a committee is now negotiating the final percentage. This committee reportedly had recommended a 5 percent raise following the 2018 increase.
Addressing the minimum wage and the loud calls for an increase, PM Browne says that he is pushing for the Minimum Wage Bill to be sorted out soon.
At the beginning of this year – following agitation by United Progressive Party Political Leader Harold Lovell – Labour Minister Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin moved to convene the Minimum Wage Committee to decide on an appropriate increase.
The body apparently met and then reportedly stalled; and, to date, the results of its deliberations have not been made public. But Browne claims the members are now involved in consultations.
Meanwhile, vendors who are owed money by the Browne Administration are also being promised payment by the end of the year.
On the promise of reclassification, the Prime Minister says it will happen by the end of this year (2022) – especially for teachers. He acknowledges that educators were re-classified in 2014, but admits that another such exercise is long overdue.
While other public-sector workers also require re-classification, Browne says he cannot promise that this will be done within the same time frame promised for educators.
In the meantime, Browne has revised his predictions and is once again claiming his party will sweep the upcoming General Elections.
But if that is the case, some residents ask, what is the reason for his extra electioneering with promises that should have been fulfilled years ago.
“This smacks of desperation,” a woman says dismissively.
Another commented, “Just call the elections so we can be done with you. Why are you so desperate to hold onto power? If the people no longer want you, have some pride and just let the chips fall where they may.”