During the Anguilla United Front’s radio programme “Just the Facts”, on Monday, February 21, the Opposition Leader, Cora Richardson-Hodge, sought to express her dismay at the answer she got from the Honourable Premier, Dr. Ellis Webster, when she asked him why his administration reinstated the 15% salary cut which was initially undertaken by the Anguilla United Front administration, in 2020, of which she was a part.
Mrs. Richardson-Hodge’s three related questions on the 15% cut, and their answers from the Premier, were carried in The Anguillian newspaper of Friday, February 18, 2022.
On the programme “Just the Facts”, Mrs. Richardson Hodge stated: “The reinstatement of the 15% that was cut from parliamentarians’ salaries has been a hot topic across Anguilla for some weeks now because many persons feel that this is not the time for parliamentarians to increase their salaries. This decision to put back the 15% would have been taken by the Ministers of Government themselves.
“As leader of the Opposition, that prompted me to ask a question to the Premier so that the general public would be made aware of the exact reasoning behind the15% increase in parliamentarians’ salaries. We know that the Premier had provided an explanation, of sorts, sometime earlier, but that explanation was not well received with him purporting that the 15% would help the elected officials to give support to needy people of their communities.
“I inquired why did the Government, under the Premier, take the decision to put back the 15%. The Honourable Premier provided a long explanation with a couple digs. I find it interesting because he made some statements which I thought were not very forthright. He said that at no time, before December 2020, that the Minister of Sandy Hill [yours truly] requested that the 15% be cut from the Oppositions’ salaries.
“Now, to give some background context, when the Anguilla United Front was in Government, during the period 2015 to 2020, we took the decision to cut the salaries by 15%, in May of 2020, after we had closed the borders as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.“There was a brief discussion as to whether the cut should extend to the sole Opposition member, who was the Honourable Palmavon Webster. However, since the income she received was so minimal, we would not have garnered much savings in terms of a 15% cut from her end. Therefore, the decision was taken not to interfere with the Opposition member’s salary, but only to apply the 15% cut to Government members’ salaries.”
It would be important to note that though the decision was taken to cut the salaries in May 2020, the actual reduction was implemented in July of 2020 when the current administration took office.
Mrs. Richardson-Hodge continued: “Once the election took place, we found ourselves in Opposition. I do not know whether I ever thought about having the 15% reduction applied to the Members of the Oppositions’ salaries. It was never a factor. The reality is the Members of the Oppositions’ income is not significant compared to the salaries of the Government.
“Government officials are paid two salaries: they are paid as Members of the Executive Council as well as Members of Parliament, whereas Opposition Members are only paid as Members of Parliament. So I found it quite interesting — when I asked the Premier why he made the decision to put back the 15% that was cut — that he chose to redirect the question by asking me why I did not come forward and ask that the Oppositions’ salaries be cut.
“I thought that his response was being disingenuous in the sense that whether or not we had asked for the cut, at the end of the day the Government had the responsibility to decide. But they looked at it and figured [to themselves] that the four members of the Opposition should receive a cut, in the same way as when we were in Government we decided that the Member of the Opposition should not receive a cut. To cut or not to cut the Oppositions’ salaries was a decision for them, as Government, to make.
“It was in January of 2021, we consulted and we decided that we would take a cut as well.” The statement that the Premier made, though, which Mrs. Richardson-Hodge considered as being disingenuous, was that at no time, before December 2020, that the Minister of Sandy Hill requested that the 15% be cut from the Oppositions’ salaries.
She went on: “It is interesting that the Honourable Premier had made mention that the 15% was supposed to go into a special fund. He and I had discussions on that earlier in his administration. It was agreed that the 15% plus another 5% would go into a Social Fund. We were waiting for that Social Fund to be set up. The fact that it had never been set up is on the account of the Government itself — not on anyone else. The Government had the opportunity to draft the legislation and take it to the House for the Social Fund to be set up.
“So, the way in which the answer to my question came across made it seem as if, for some strange reason that dropped out of the sky, unbeknown to the Ministers of Government, and unbeknown to him as Minister of Finance, the Social Fund was not able to be set up. It would appear that they abandoned it then, and put it back on their salaries and they would help the communities that way.
“What I would like the Premier to understand, though, is that the assisting of people by Parliamentarians, as elected representatives, did not just occur when they took office in 2020. Assisting persons in our communities had always been a present trait of Government. So when we cut our salaries in May of 2020, we did it understanding that we were still looking out for the people in our communities. So the response that the Honourable Minister has given [to my question] falls short of any rational decision.”