CEPEP workers ‘tricked’, less money allocated in budget

Monday, October 14, 2019 - 08:30

One of the ma­jor talk­ing points com­ing out of the $53 bil­lion 2020 bud­get de­liv­ered by Fi­nance Min­is­ter Colm Im­bert last week Mon­day (Oct 7th) was the in­crease in salaries for CEPEP (Com­mu­ni­ty-Based En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion and En­hance­ment Pro­gramme) and URP Un­em­ploy­ment Re­lief Pro­gramme) work­ers of 15 per cent.

The move was hailed by some as a good one but crit­i­cized by oth­ers as be­ing a lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tion ploy.

At the time of the bud­get pre­sen­ta­tion, the elec­tion date was not known, how­ev­er, 4 days lat­er dur­ing the com­mence­ment of the de­bate the Prime Min­is­ter an­nounced De­cem­ber 2 as the date of the polls.

In de­liv­er­ing the fis­cal pack­age, Min­is­ter Im­bert said “Madam Speak­er, I pro­pose to in­crease the wages of CEPEP work­ers by 15 per cent and al­so to in­crease the fees paid to CEPEP con­trac­tors by 15 per­cent. These mea­sures will take ef­fect from De­cem­ber 1, 2019. Un­em­ploy­ment Re­lief Pro­gramme Madam Speak­er, I pro­pose to in­crease the wages of URP work­ers by 15 per­cent. This mea­sure will take ef­fect from De­cem­ber 1, 2019.”

But in analysing the bud­get­ed fig­ures Po­lit­i­cal Sci­en­tist Dr Bish­nu Ra­goonath en­coun­tered dis­crep­an­cies that he felt re­quires some an­swers.

He said, “That was a nice trick that the Min­is­ter of Fi­nance played up­on all of us and par­tic­u­lar­ly so the work­ers of CEPEP and URP and if you un­der­stand what has hap­pened, what the Min­is­ter of Fi­nance didn’t tell us is sim­ply this that the bud­get for CEPEP has been re­duced for 2019/2020.”

He ex­plained that the bud­get has been re­duced by more than 15 mil­lion dol­lars, “now what that would mean is that if you are tak­ing the same bud­get from last year and you were go­ing to in­crease peo­ple’s salary by 15 per cent, let’s just say they were work­ing 9 months last year, 8 months this year and when you re­duce the bud­get by a fur­ther 15 mil­lion dol­lars, you’ll prob­a­bly be work­ing 7 months.”

He said the Min­is­ter of Fi­nance did not make this fact known when he read the bud­get.

“But for us who have analysed the da­ta and the es­ti­mates of ex­pen­di­ture, it is clear that they have re­duced the bud­get (to CEPEP). So if you are keep­ing the same pool of work­ers but you have in­creased their salaries and you have re­duced the sum they go­ing to work for less and that’s an elec­tion ploy….it’s ei­ther you work less in terms of length or less in terms of num­bers.”

When Guardian Me­dia looked at the bud­get doc­u­ments it showed that for 2018/2019 the CEPEP com­pa­ny re­ceived $369,613,280 and for 2019/2020 the al­lo­ca­tion is 347,876,000, mean­ing that CEPEP is ac­tu­al­ly re­ceiv­ing 21,737,280 less this time around. There was no ex­pla­na­tion giv­en in the doc­u­ment.

As it re­lates to URP, in 2018/2019 the pro­gramme re­ceived $6,157,000 and in 2019/2020 it will re­ceive $6, 505, 000. This in­di­cat­ed an in­crease of $348,000.

In the ex­pla­na­tions col­umn, it said “In­cludes pro­vi­sion for va­cant posts with in­cum­bents.”

When Guardian Me­dia con­tact­ed Min­is­ter of Rur­al De­vel­op­ment and Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Kaz­im Ho­sein, the min­is­ter with re­spon­si­bil­i­ty for CEPEP, on Fri­day af­ter­noon, he was with coun­cil­lors of the San Fer­nan­do City Cor­po­ra­tion launch­ing their lo­cal gov­ern­ment cam­paign but agreed to speak.

When asked about the low­er bud­get for CEPEP Min­is­ter Ho­sein said “We have a cer­tain amount of con­trac­tors and a cer­tain amount of work­ers and that is the al­lo­ca­tion we re­ceived to han­dle that full amount. That is what hap­pened in the last bud­get too.”

When asked about the promise of in­creased salaries with less mon­ey be­ing al­lo­cat­ed, he replied “we nev­er had any prob­lem with fund­ing for CEPEP since I am there.”

The min­is­ter was then asked more point­ed­ly that if an in­crease is be­ing giv­en then how is the al­lo­ca­tion less than last year.

He then re­quest­ed that the ques­tions be sent to him and he would source the in­for­ma­tion and of­fer a bet­ter re­sponse.

A screen­shot of the bud­get doc­u­ment and ques­tions were im­me­di­ate­ly sent to the Min­is­ter but clar­i­fi­ca­tion was not re­ceived up to press time.

Act­ing Chair­man of CEPEP Mar­i­lyn Michael was al­so con­tact­ed on the mat­ter but in­di­cat­ed that she was un­der the weath­er at the time and was un­able to fa­cil­i­tate the in­ter­view.

She promised to do so when in bet­ter health.

This is­sue is al­so one of con­cern for the op­po­si­tion, for­mer Min­ster of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment, who over­saw CEPEP for five years, Dr Roodal Mooni­lal de­scribed it as a de­cep­tion.

“There is the pos­si­ble loss of jobs be­cause can’t fi­nance an or­gan­i­sa­tion that you are now in­creas­ing its labour bill and re­duc­ing the over­all sub­ven­tion to the com­pa­ny so that clear­ly they are go­ing to down­size and re­trench CEPEP con­trac­tors and work­ers,” Moo­nial said.

He said an­oth­er area of wor­ry is “the “ma­jor­i­ty of CEPEP work­ers work for the min­i­mum wage when you in­crease their salary by 15 per cent it is less than the new min­i­mum wage and this is il­le­gal.”

He said what should be done is the new $17.50 min­i­mum wage should be ap­plied to the work­er’s salaries first then ap­ply the 15 per cent in­crease to it.

He said the gov­ern­ment must clar­i­fy this fact.

Guardian Me­dia made sev­er­al at­tempts to con­tact Min­is­ter of Fi­nance Colm Im­bert on the claims be­ing made, via calls, texts, and What­sApp but all to no avail.