On 31 October the House of Assembly passed a Motion which will see two backbenchers — Hon. Marlon Penn Junior Minister for Trade and Investment Promotion, and Hon. Archibald Christian, Junior Minister of Tourism receive an increase in their pay package.
The Motion moved by Acting Premier, and Minister for Natural Resources and Labour, Dr. the Hon. Kedrick Pickering is retroactive from the time the two Legislators were appointed Junior Ministers in December 2015.
Dr. Pickering in his presentation said that the Cabinet of the Virgin Islands at its 6 October meeting approved an increase in salary and allowances of $15,972.00 per annum with respect to each Junior Minister.
Furthermore, Cabinet also approved that such increase is payable with effect from 16 December 2015, being the date of appointment of both Junior Ministers.
While members of the Government spoke favorably about the increase, Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Julian Fraser who was the only Opposition Member present at that sitting was not pleased and announced that there are civil servants who had to make do without increments: “In this world, timing is everything…You have civil servants who haven’t been getting increments and police who haven’t been getting increments but you giving Junior Ministers a raise,” Opposition Leader, Hon. Julian Fraser pointed out.
He also explained that he was unsure about the responsibilities of the new Junior Ministers: “Do they have offices, what are their office hours going to be? I didn’t bring this here, you (government) brought it. And you brought it so I can ask questions about it and find out what’s going on…If I don’t know what’s going on, the public doesn’t know what’s going on. It has no business here. With the state of things being the way they are, as small as it may seem…I would like to know, maybe the Deputy Premier can tell me what is this $15,000 all about, is it a fulltime responsibility,” Hon. Fraser questioned
Minister for Education and Culture, Hon. Myron Walwyn responded to some of Hon. Frasers comments, and announced that the increase was not dramatic: “You (Junior Ministers) are members of the House; you get a particular salary for being a member of the House. If you get additional responsibility, it is only fair and proper that it attracts something…And this figure is not even significant in the grand scheme of things for the responsibilities that the junior minister of tourism and the minister of trade have to carry out. Their responsibilities are serious responsibilities,”
Meanwhile, Minister for Health and Social Security Hon Ronnie Skelton in his response announced that asking someone to work without proper pay is akin to slavery: “The Junior Ministers’ salaries as we speak is $36,000 a year and their salary is being moved from $36,000 to $45,000 – that is the salary. The rest of it is allowances that the Ministers get – travel allowance, telephone allowance, and entertainment allowance. Travel allowance is $3,000, telephone is $972, and the entertainment is $3,000…I know we have people who seem to be unreasonable. For any of us to believe that we can put people to work without remuneration; the last time that happened we are still looking for reparation payments from our slave masters which we will not get.”
In his contribution to the debate, Minister for Communications and Works, Hon. Mark Vanterpool stressed that the Junior Ministers are not civil servants, and represent the Premier in their respective duties: “I heard the talk about Junior ministers having a job description. I think sometimes we get a bit lost in what we are trying to achieve. The Junior Ministers have been appointed to assist the premier in carrying out the portfolio he wishes them to assist with in whichever ministry or whichever part of government…”
“These members are not civil servants; they are not daily sitting on those jobs like another who has to fill out job description, saying every day you are gonna do from A to B to C. They are not required to go in at 8:30 and leave at 5 o’ clock… So let’s not get people confused thinking that the two junior ministers are civil servants; they are not… [But] they must be accountable to the people of the territory in what is done at the end of the day,” Hon. Vanterpool added.