Over the past couple of weeks, representatives of the unions have been making the media rounds trying to explain how a trust which they set up is going to work. And they are finding it extremely difficult to find persons to side with them because the trust has among other problems, not identified who the individual beneficiaries should be.
The trust was set up almost a year ago on September 4, 2013 and since that time the document and its contents have been kept out of the public domain. In 1997, the then Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Manuel Esquivel had given the B shares in BTL for the Unions to hold as compensation to public officers who had their annual increments suspended between 1995 and 1997. 16 years after the shares were presented and the Belize National Teachers Union and the Public Service Union have now finally set up the trust. In fairness to the unions however, the trust could not be set up as easily since in 2004 the PUP Musa administration sold the shares to Jeffrey Prosser right from under the unions’ noses. To appease them at the time, Musa replaced the original B shares with C shares in BTL. At this point in time the unions hold 794,732 shares in BTL which have earned in excess of 5.5 million dollars in dividends (see Insert 7).
17 years since the original offer was made to compensate the public officers who were affected by the salary freeze interest was aroused in it on July 23, when the government of Belize announced that 3.06 million dollars which was being held in a Government Savings Account had been transferred to the Trustees of the Public Sector Workers’ Trust. That sum in addition to $2.04 million dollars which the unions already had access to as an accumulation of dividends from 2007 to 2013 from BTL share dividends amounted to over 5 million dollars which now makes up the trust.
Now those who are to be beneficiaries are asking how they will derive benefits from the trust and it is a straight forward question that does not have a straight forward answer. In making their media rounds, two trustees to the trust, Raymond Davis and Dr. Philip Castillo made an appearance on Wave Radio’s ‘Fus Ting da Mawnin’.
During the 2 and a half hour session hosts, Joe Bradley and Alfonso Noble questioned them extensively on the entire trust deed. While there are dubious areas within the trust itself, the most pertinent question was who the beneficiaries are. According to the deed, the beneficiaries are ‘those public officers, open vote workers, teachers, whose salaries were affected by the increment freeze which came into effect on 1st April 1995 and ended 31st March 1997.’ Additionally ‘any other person deemed to be Beneficiaries by the Trustees hereof.’ While the trust is specific as to who the beneficiaries should be, according to both Davis and Castillo, there is no way of determining who the beneficiaries are. Even after suggestions were given to them on how to obtain a listing of public officers between ‘95 and ‘97 the trustees simply said they would not be able to determine who the beneficiaries are. Compounding the situation is that while the trustees say they cannot determine who the beneficiaries are, they are given powers to add persons to the list of beneficiaries.
While that is a fundamental problem there are other concerns that arise in the deed, among these is how the moneys can be invested, the fact that trustees can set up businesses and use the trust money to do so as well as being able to put encumbrances on the trust finances as they see fit. Another major problem that beneficiaries are having is that there will be no direct cash benefits which they will be able to enjoy from the trust as was the original intention.
There is also the issue of accountability where there are no provision in the deed put in place that there be any level of accounting for the trust’s finances.
All told it is a document that truly needed consultation before it was put together, and while the unions claim there was such, it was done so at meetings they held with a very select few persons who are to be the beneficiaries.