By: Omar Silva, EDITOR: National Perspective Belize
Belize City: Saturday, 23 September 2023 - In a recent turn of events that disrupted the High Court sessions in Belize, prosecutors went on a sickout, demanding better pay and increased security. Their action has sparked a response from the government, as Attorney General Anthony Sylvestre and Financial Secretary Joseph Waight met with the aggrieved crown counsels to address their concerns.
Since Monday, several prosecutors had called in sick, leaving the Director of Public Prosecution to shoulder the burden of an increased workload to ensure that court matters could proceed. The sickout raised questions about the compensation and security issues faced by these legal professionals.
Financial Secretary Joseph Waight emphasized the need for equity and equality across the public service. He recognized that decisions in one segment of the public service can have immediate ripple effects on others. Budgetary constraints also played a role in the government's considerations.
"In anything, you have to think about equity, equality across the public service," stated Waight during the meeting. "So, whatever you do, and also you have to watch the bottom line. You could have a situation where somebody deserves and needed but if you don’t have the money then what will you do? But where are trying our best to first listen, understand and appreciate the concerns of the judicial officers and to see how best we can respond, bearing in mind that whatever is agreed or not agreed, has an effect for the rest of the public service and bottom line, affording it."
Waight acknowledged that addressing the demands for increased pay and improved working conditions would come at a cost but assured that the government is actively working towards a constructive resolution. "Everything has a cost, so whatever we agree on will have a cost," he said. "We have to see how we can accommodate those, you know. I will say it is constructive and we believe that at the end of the day there will be an outcome that will be satisfactory to most if not all."
Attorney General Anthony Sylvestre supported the government's stance and expressed confidence in a positive outcome. "I took [the sickout] to be genuine, because if it were otherwise, we wouldn't have reached this point," he stated. Sylvestre noted that security arrangements have been enhanced to address the prosecutors' security concerns.
"As I have said before there are security arrangements that have been put in place," said Sylvestre. "Sufficed to say security arrangements have been put in place and I am confident that those address the concerns that have been expressed."
Following the meeting, News Five received credible information that all crown counsels who had called in sick during the protest are expected to return to work on Monday, as they are now feeling well.
The National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) also issued a statement expressing solidarity with the prosecutors. The NTUCB called on the government to find the funding necessary to address compensation-related issues and other compensation package anomalies within the public service.
In the midst of these developments, it is clear that the concerns raised by the prosecutors have prompted the government to take action, with assurances that the issues of compensation and security will be addressed in the coming weeks. The sickout, though disruptive, has brought attention to the needs of these legal professionals and the broader public service. As both sides work towards a resolution, there is optimism for a satisfactory outcome that can benefit all parties involved.