Health Minister Marlon Penn is in agreement that successive governments have continued to balance the territory’s budget on the backs of public servants.
Penn, the incumbent Eighth District Representative and Chairman of the National Democratic Party (NDP), was speaking at the time at a Virgin Islands Public Service Association forum held last evening with leaders of the ruling Virgin Islands Party (VIP), Patriotic Citizens Movement (PCM) and Progressive Virgin Islands Movement (PVIM).
During the forum, a senior civil servant asked the panellists whether the incoming government will commit to awarding public servants’ long outstanding increments. She commented that the trend has shown that past governments generally budget for and pay increments in election years, seemingly as an election gimmick.
Pay them their due
In response, Penn argued that governments have to be more responsible with how the public purse is managed going forward.
“I agree with the question. We’re running the system on the backs of the public servants,” Penn said. “When you look at some of the decisions that we’ve made in terms of how we’ve spent public funds, that should have gone to the public servants and pay their [increments]”.
Penn said elected officials need to arrive at a cut-off point and stick to the commitments that have been made to public servants and to the financial obligations that the government has.
The Health Minister related that there have been heated discussions within Cabinet where lawmakers have examined the importance of ensuring that public servants are paid their fair due.
“I have a simple philosophy,” Penn expressed. “If a man works and there is proof that he’s done his work, he should be paid. It’s a simple philosophy, and I believe that we have an obligation to pay the civil servants their due based on the law, and I have a commitment to make that payment to the civil servants.”
We will pay
Premier Dr Natalio Wheatley, in the meantime, acknowledged that the government fell behind somewhere along the line and reminded persons that the government has committed to making payments on two years of outstanding increments — 2018 and 2019.
“God willing, if I’m elected with a majority, we’ll do another two years next year in an effort to try to catch up,” the premier assured.
Premier Wheatley also spoke about how the government can be held accountable if the increments are not paid as promised.
“Public servants are one of the biggest voting blocks in the society, and certainly it is important that governments understand that we have to treat our public servants fairly, or we pay a price at the polls,” he stated.