One of the most debated matters in the Anguilla House of Assembly on Tuesday, March 9, 2021, was a Bill for a reduction of salaries and allowances for members of the Government and the Opposition. The 15% reduction, which was approved by the House, is nothing new as it was provided for by the previous Government of Anguilla. It is therefore just a continuation of that decision.
What has not been done, as part of that decision, is the 5% reduction of the salaries of public servants as was also put in place by the previous Government.
The 2021 legislation, effective until December 31, was introduced by the Premier and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ellis Webster.
Mr. Cardigan Connor
Opposition Elected Member, for West End, Mr. Cardigan Connor, recalled that the reduction of salaries for the parliamentarians was in fact a decision taken by the Government in which he served as Parliamentary Secretary, and was due to the financial situation regarding COVID-19. “In deciding to pay 15% of their salaries by Elected Members, for the rest of the year, we probably need to look to see whether or not we are spending or employing more people than we need at a time of a pandemic,” he stated. “There are a number of Bills before the House in order to create more revenue. The question is, at what expense to our people? That is the big challenge that we face right now.” He said there was a need to help the people of Anguilla more, and that the 15% reduction of the parliamentarians’ salaries “was neither here nor there.”
He continued: “At this point in time, I would ask the Government to seriously look at where the money is being spent – the money that is taken from me, my colleagues, all of us…I implore Government to have a look to see where they are employing persons, at a time like this, especially within tourism. For the five years that we were in Government, there were a number of positions that should have been filled, but there were certain sacrifices that had to be made… Sometimes we have to say that now is not the right time.”
Mrs. Cora Richardson-Hodge
The Leader of the Opposition, Mrs. Cora Richardson-Hodge, said that when contacted by Premier Dr. Webster, about the salaries reduction, she and her colleagues had agreed to the decision. She stated that the salary reduction legislation, passed by the previous Government in May, 2020, had expired at the end of December that year – and it was necessary for the present Government “to bring back another Bill in order to continue the reduction of salaries.”
She pointed out that, subsequent to the discussions with the Premier, the Opposition became aware of certain positions that were being filled at the Tourist Board, as well as a Public Relations Officer and a Liaison Officer for a Spanish Desk. She observed that the salary reduction of the parliamentarians amounted to EC$327,000 for the year – and that the salaries for the persons employed in the new positions would “eat up” that money.
The Opposition Leader went on: “And so, Madam Speaker, my concern is that the Ministers of Government, as well as the Members of the Opposition, would have taken a cut in their salaries, but the cut seems to have been eaten up by new positions and new persons being hired.” She particularly questioned two positions in the Tourist Board, one of which has already been filled. She noted that Anguilla’s borders were closed in March 2020, resulting in low tourist arrivals and low revenue – and therefore indicated that it was not the right time to fill the positions.
Mr. Evans Rogers
Fellow Opposition Member, Mr. Evans Rogers, was also of the same view and questioned, among other matters, the appointment of the Public Relations Officer. However, he noted that the previous Government, in which he was Minister of Health and Social Development, had employed a Public Relations Officer.
Further, Mr. Rogers deemed the increase in medical fees as a mistake at a time of a global Covid-19 pandemic affecting the economic lives of the people of Anguilla – in terms of employment and earnings.
Towards the conclusion of his presentation, he stated: “I am in support of the continuation of the 15% reduction. I want the Government of Anguilla to really look into what would be significant because, as far as I am concerned, this is short term [provision] for the rest of the year, and we are hoping that things would bounce back when we get COVID-19 under control. While the civil servants have been fortunate in the sense that they have a monthly salary, most of the folks in the hospitality industry, because of the present situation, do not have anything to reduce.”
Mr. Jose Vanterpool
The Opposition’s Island-wide Elected Representative, Mr. Jose Vanterpool, was surprised that there was no mention about the 5% salary reduction for public servants, as was decided on by the previous Government. He told the House of Assembly:
“Madam Speaker, I rise to give my support, as well as to reiterate, the Leader of the Opposition’s point, that all the Opposition Members support this Bill for the reduction of salaries for the Elected Members. [It] is a means of standing in solidarity with the people of Anguilla – and the Government which, at this time, is going through some very difficult and tough fiscal times.
“Despite my support for this Bill, it has brought some questions to the forefront of my mind. The biggest point that I would like to touch on was that I was honestly surprised to see the 5% reduction for the civil service omitted from this Bill. The main reason for my surprise may not be what some may think. I was surprised to see it removed because we have been hearing so much about how the British had been forcing our hands, and how certain things are beyond our control during these tough times. I honestly expected that bringing this Bill before the Governor, or before the British, without the reduction for the civil service, would have resulted in the Bill not being assented to. After all, I thought what would be the message that we are sending to the British? The British taxpayers are being taxed to be able to provide us with the relief that we are currently having. I can imagine the British saying your civil service also has to make some kind of sacrifice to be able to stand in solidarity with us. I see the Bill ahead of time being able to get assent…
“What this shows is that this Government was successfully able to stand up to something in the best interest of our people…I am sure they [the Anguilla Government], would not want to put an extra burden on the civil service which is currently leading the financial activity in Anguilla. They were able to push back against the British and say – no, we don’t want to enact legistration at this time against our people; and the British had no choice but to assent.
“If this were the case, I would have honestly preferred to see this Government put its foot down on another issue, debated before, and come here today and include the 5%, rather than having it omitted. The legislation, I am talking about, specifically, is the Bulk Fuel Importation Tax that we discussed four weeks ago…We spoke about how an increase in the Bulk Fuel Tax, or fee, would result in higher fees at the pumps, with ANGLEC having no choice but to raise its fuel surcharge which, as we know, is one of the biggest portions of the electricity bill today, which would be ultimately passed on to our businesses…
“I spoke to an individual from the private sector who was expressing his challenges and difficulties to me, and he was actually infuriated by the fact that the civil service’s 5% reduction was not included. He was saying that, as a businessowner and operator in Anguilla, it was over a year since he had received a cheque but he still has to keep his office going; still has employees; and still has to try and keep operations open because there are other persons whose livelihood depends upon his business. He felt that it was unfair that civil servants would be able to keep 100 % of their salaries while there were people out there who were having none.”
Ms. Dee-Ann Kentish-Rogers
Reacting to Mr. Vanterpool’s view, the Elected Representative for Valley South, Ms. Dee-Ann Kentish-Rogers, said: “I stand in support of the Honourable Premier’s Bill for the reduction of salaries. But I want to provide some further explanation in relation to some of the actions taken by Government, thus far, relating to the civil service reduction in salaries. We know that this was suggested at a rate of 5 % in May, 2020. That suggestion was actually never implemented. I noted that the single Island-wide Electoral Member, Mr. Jose Vanterpool, said that he was surprised to see that no action had been taken in relation to this 5% reduction.
“What I want to explain, Madam Speaker, is that we are in very trying circumstances; but we also acknowledge that we have to make decisions very carefully. I say that because, when we are considering the reduction in salary, I can understand, from the prospective of persons in the private sector, who have not seen income coming in since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. I can see their concern about what is going on with this 5% cut. Everybody has to make sacrifices and it is true. It is not to say that this Government has taken that 5% cut off the table. What we have realised is that we cannot make decisions off the cuff because we are currently dealing with the impact of making decisions off the cuff, and not making counter-balancing decisions that protect the people of Anguilla.
“I will explain what I mean about that. Anguilla’s civil service has seen significant cuts to their salaries over the years. I believe there have been three cuts thus far. No one can blame anyone. They were hard decisions to be made and difficult financial circumstances; and so, the Government of Anguilla, at the time, made the decision to cut those salaries. But here is where we pause, Madam Speaker.
“We pause because the system of governance and the system of our industries and sectors are all inter-connected. We have a salary and we pay into Social Security and into the Pension Fund. The Pension Fund is created through the percentage contributions from persons’ salaries…Here we have that, over the years, a number of cuts [of civil servants’ salaries] have been put into place without a counter-balancing amendment to the percentage of contribution to the rate of Social Security or the Pension Fund…”
Ms. Kentish-Rogers stressed that she understood the struggle and pain of persons, in the private sector, who were saying that they had not received a salary.
After speaking in much detail, she added: “What we are doing, Madam Speaker, is not to say that we are not cutting salaries for our civil servants; but that we are taking the time to make the decisions to ensure that we don’t put in jeopardy the sustainability of our funds…
“And so, Madam Speaker, I said that just to give the single Island-wide Electoral Representative some background information as to the decision-making of the Government of Anguilla, and why we have not rushed to come to the House in relation to cutting civil servants’ salaries. We want to be responsible about it.”
Premier Dr. Webster
Commenting on the legislation, before the House of Assembly, Premier Webster said, among other matters: “An issue that was not raised was that Members of the Opposition were not part of the previous public service salaries reduction Act and so, therefore, from July to December, the Members of the Opposition’s salaries were not cut by the 15% as was done for the persons on this side [of the House of Assembly]. Now is the first time that they would see cuts, and I commend the Opposition for accepting when I asked that they would be included in the salary reductions for Ministers and Elected Members.”
Mr. Haydn Hughes
Earlier, the Elected Member for Road South, Mr. Haydn Hughes, defended the Government’s hiring of a Public Relations Officer, as the previous Government did, and a first-time Liaison Officer for the Spanish community. He also spoke about his appointment of Mrs. Stacey Liburd, as Director of Tourism, whom he praised for her services and achievements so far; and the Government’s plans to appoint a Marketing Officer.
Mr. Hughes, who holds the portfolios for Infrastructure and Tourism, indicated that although Anguilla’s tourism industry was going through a period of difficulty, as a result of COVID-19, and the island was still closed, it was necessary to have both positions filled.
During its March 9 sitting, the Anguilla House of Assembly also debated and passed three other pieces of draft legislation. They were: a Bill for an Education (Amendment) Act, 2021; a Bill for an Anguilla Community College (Amendment) Act, 2021; and a Bill for a Biodiversity and Heritage Conservation (Amendment) Act, 2021.
The Education (Amendment) Act and the Anguilla Community College (Amendment) Act have both provided for the responsibilities of the Boards to be handled by the Department of Education. The Opposition Leader voiced her objections to this and other related matters.