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A new BNTU president elected and an attempt to increase fees to members Print E-mail
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Thursday, 27 April 2017 00:00

The Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU) has elected a new leader after 9 years. Elena Smith, the current Senator for Labour and Civil Society, will take over from Luke Palacio as National President, since he has served 3 terms and cannot offer himself for the position. However, has there really been a change from the same old politicized leadership within BNTU that has emerged in recent years?

The cause for speculation is that Palacio has been forced to move from the helm of the union, but he now serves as the BNTU’s first Vice President. That’s only going from the highest ranked official, to the second highest rank in the leadership. He is well within his right to influence any policy decisions of the union. Also, since he was at the apex for almost a decade, his colleagues will definitely defer to his experience. That could mean that there is no true shift in direction from the overly political stances that the BNTU has been taking in the recent part of its 47-year history.

Around 630 teachers, who are paying members of BNTU, showed up at the Escuela Secundaria Technica Mexico in San Román, Corozal. On Thursday, April 20, 2017, the second day of their annual convention, the teachers were preparing to elect a new leader out of the 3 candidates contesting for the post. They were Troy Coleman, the President of the Stann Creek Branch, Mario Mesh, the President of the Corozal Rural Branch, and Senator Elena Smith.

Teachers had come from all parts of the country, and some of them had to wake up as early as 4 a.m. to make the journey to Corozal. That must have not mattered much to the union’s Council of Management who staged an emergency meeting at the convention, delaying the election for almost over 3 hours. They were jumping at shadows, perceiving political interference from the ruling UDP, the political bogeyman they’ve learned to vilify well to their members.

The leaders had no actual proof apart from rumours that agents of the UDP were supposedly backing the Corozal candidate, Mario Mesh. They rationalized this trivial idea as an attempt to either weaken the BNTU leadership, or to get a UDP elected as the president. After hours of closed-door deliberation, Mesh’s candidacy was allowed to proceeding, which meant that all that time was wasted. Of note is that PUP officials such as the Secretary General and Deputy Secretary General in the persons of Lindsford Castillo and Collet Montejo respectively, actually showed up to the convention, in what is clear meddling, but that appeared to be fine, no outcry there. After all it was PUP meddling and that of course is allowed!

All the candidates for the 4 posts were given an opportunity to try and convince the convention attendees that they were the best choice for the tough position of leadership. All 630 then lined up to vote at their respective branch ballots.

The election committee then went off to a separate room to tally the votes, and in the meantime, outgoing president Luke Palacio chaired a discussion of several resolutions that needed approval of the convention. Several of them would have saddled the membership with more money that they personally had to pay out to their union. Fortunately, the teachers saw the burden in those resolutions and blocked them from passing.

The first one reads: “Whereas Branch Presidents, Secretaries and Treasurers conduct many responsibilities for BNTU are required to sacrifice personal funds, be it resolved that each receive a stipend from BNTU Central of $300, 200, and $100 monthly respectively.” That was defeated by the number of convention goers who rejected it as something that they could not support.

The next defeated resolution that the members voted against was one for an increase in fee collection, It read: Whereas membership has been paying monthly union fees of $20 and $18 respectively, which is as follows: Death Fund $2, Strike Fund $1, Building Fund $3, and dues $14/$12; be it resolved that monthly union fees be increased to $25 as follows: Death Fund $2, Mobilization and Industrial Action Fund $2, Building Fund $3, Education and Training $2, Legal Fees $1 and Dues $15, effective September 2017.

About 2 hours or so after the voting was done, the Election Committee finally emerged with the results: Elena Smith got 349 votes. Troy Coleman got 197 votes, and Mario Mesh received the least of the 3 with only 140 votes. That automatically meant that Elena Smith had won the election for president by a landslide.

She becomes the next president with only a fraction of the total membership electing her, but that’s better than Palacio’s last term in office when he was re-elected. So, the silent majority of the union had no say once again in how their union is running. Isn’t that an indication of the disconnect between the leadership and the membership they serve?