Sen. Roberts voices concern over salary increase to press secretary

Trade unions representing public sector workers in Grenada are annoyed over the $12,000 a year salary increase granted the press secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister.

Labour Representative in the Upper House of Parliament, Senator Raymond Roberts addressed the issue of the salary increase to Kisha Abba Alexander-Grant during Monday’s sitting of the Senate.

According to Sen. Roberts, a former Director of the Government Information Service (GIS) and executive member of the Public Workers Union (PWU), employees in the civil service feel betrayed by the action of government.

He drew the Senate’s attention to Vote 10 on page 107 of the 2016 Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure, which show that Alexander-Grant’s salary was moving in the New Year from $60,000 to $72,000 per annum.

The Labour Senator indicated that the hike in salary of the press secretary comes at a time when the workers of the country reluctantly accepted a wage deferral.

He said the unions managed to get the workers to understand the economic crisis facing the country and got them to accept a “pay cut,” but now the Keith Mitchell-led government has ignored the sacrifices made by workers by “jacking up one person’s pay.”

Sen. Roberts also informed the Senate that the cash-strapped ruling New National Party (NNP) administration has not paid increments to teachers, police officers, and public servants since returning to office in February 2013.

He felt that Prime Minister Mitchell ought not to have singled out one person “for special delivery,” as the post of press secretary is not an essential one in the civil service.

He noted that the $12,000 a year increase given to Alexander-Grant is four times the salary of a debusher for an entire year.

The Labour Senator rejected the rationale given by Culture Minister, Sen. Brenda Hood for providing the press secretary with a salary increase.

Sen. Hood told Parliamentarians last week Friday that Alexander-Grant is doing “lots and lots of work” and deserved the pay hike.

“She is working seven days a week, 24 hours a day… and, therefore, she is entitled to whatever she gets,” she said.

Sen. Hood was annoyed that the pending pay hike for Alexander-Grant has been publicized in the world–at-large.

“We have technology these days, so the whole world knows it, that the Press Secretary now will not be making $5,000 a month, she will be making $6,000 a month. What is $6,000 when you are working seven days a week, and doing some long, long hours? That is not a lot of money,” she said.

However, Sen. Roberts hit back, saying that he considers the female Government Senator’s response as being “totally and highly irresponsible.”

“To defend that kind of behaviour, you would admit… it is totally irresponsible,” he said.

“I am profoundly shocked… and bewildered that a veteran Government Parliamentarian, a member of the Cabinet would use this floor to sit, and to defend what I consider a total abuse of the public purse,” he told the Upper House.

Sen. Roberts said he regrets that none of Dr. Mitchell’s Ministers had the intestinal fortitude to tell him that the salary increase for Alexander-Grant is wrong and bad, and that he should withdraw it.

“We – men and women, not brave enough to tell the Leader what he ought to do… Nobody is brave enough to say what is right.

“I want to strongly challenge you, Senators on the other side, go back to the $12,000 increase, let us tell our Leader to withdraw it. Tell him it is bad, it is bad, withdraw it, and that’s why I am saying we have to out that Labour recognises that every worker in the country deserves a salary increase due to the high cost of living while indicating that “this is an expensive country to live in.”

He stated that Dr. Mitchell’s “failed policies, reckless borrowing and spending for 13 years” have resulted in the economy becoming sluggish.

Leader of Government Business in the Senate, Simon Stiell rebuked Sen. Roberts for raising the issue of the salary increase to the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary.

According to Sen. Stiell, it is his understanding that Sen. Roberts first raised the issue through a press release.

“When I read the press release… ‘betrayal of the public sector, blatant abuse of the public purse,’ and then I hear Sen. Roberts contribution on the Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure for the year 2016… and the only number in this entire (budget) book that you can pull out… the only number… that you can come up with is $1,000 per month allocation. Shame on you. Shame on you Sen. Roberts. Shame on you. That is the best that you can do,” Sen. Stiell said.

The Government Senator hinted that Sen. Roberts’ statement is politically motivated.

“We have to get away from the petty politics, we have to for all our sakes, and if… you’re seeking a political career, you can do better than that,” he remarked.

Sen. Stiell sought to justify the salary increase to be given to Alexander-Grant by comparing it with the salaries that were paid to the support staff of former Prime Minister Tillman Thomas during the 2008-13 period.

He informed the Senate that there were five persons including a press secretary as support staff to the former Prime Minister who were paid altogether $522,600 per annum.

According to Sen. Stiell, the NNP regime is now into its third year and the workload for the Press Secretary is rather excessive and she was deserving of the pay hike.

Mitchell’s NNP has been warned by the Washington-based International Monetary Fund (IMF) to significantly cut on expenditure to arrest a bad fiscal situation facing the country.

Government was forced to enter into a Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) after the island was forced in April 2013 to default on millions of dollars owed mainly to U.S bondholders.

Under an agreement reached, Grenada is expected to start making payments to the bondholders around the middle of next year.

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