Having not received their overtime pay, nurses refused to work this past weekend, stalling the COVID-19 vaccination campaign. Prime Minister Gaston Browne made the admission during a radio outing on Saturday, October 9.
Browne apologized to the nurses and called the non-payment a faux pas (foe pah), blaming it on the incompetence of certain officials.
He says the money should have been paid on Friday, October 8, and that the cheque had been issued over a week ago. However, it was because of “some bureaucracy” that the nurses were not paid.
Browne says this is where public servants sometimes “drop the ball.” He claims it was “some bureaucrat” in the Ministry of Health who informed Finance officials that the cheque had to be redone.
“And to get a replacement cheque, no one had the commonsense to make sure it got done and to ensure that the nurses get paid on a timely basis,” Browne, the Minister of Finance, says.
He was informed of the situation only that day, he claims; but had he known earlier, he says efforts would have been made to redo a cheque.
And while he says he does not fault the nurses for not showing up to work, Browne believes they should have exercised a bit more patience.
The Administration has ramped up its programme since vaccination for public sector workers was made mandatory. To this end, at least three centres have been open on the weekend, including the American University of Antigua (AUA).
That the programme would be stalled for two days – this past Saturday and Sunday – was unfortunate, Browne says, since the last thing the Government wishes is for the campaign to lose momentum.
Meanwhile, an apparent response to Browne’s public dressing-down of civil servants was circulated via social media over the weekend.
The unsigned message says that payment for the nurses had been received by way of a cheque issued to the Ministry of Health by the Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP).
Reportedly, the manner of payment went against operating procedures, and so the cheque was dispatched to the Treasury for deposit. It was expected that the Treasury would then issue its own cheque to the Health Ministry for disbursement to the nurses.
The message says this was done to avoid “open sesame of theft and fraud” from the CIP.
“It is the desire by the officials in the Ministry of Health to follow due and proper process which caused [Prime Minister] Browne to call them incompetent and call the right process bureaucratic,” the message ends.