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Editorial: Money Is Tight - But Straight Answers Are Priceless

PROMISES, promises. They don’t get you very far.

Hundreds of nurses gathered outside the Ministry of Health yesterday, waiting for the minister, Renward Wells, to come and give them answers about overtime pay.

The matter of payments for nurses has been rumbling on far too long. In this column in December, we noted the difference between the words of thanks for healthcare workers and the action taken to give them what was promised.

Health workers were promised money as a thank you for the hard work they put in to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The issue of overtime is to the fore too, with nurses saying they have not received overtime pay since the pandemic began affecting The Bahamas in March last year. Some have been working 16-hour shifts.

Around the world, there have been tributes paid to healthcare workers. Some countries have had regular rounds of applause on the doorstep for the efforts of those trying to keep us alive through the pandemic.

The problem now is this – is the money there? Labour Director John Pinder this week said the government had to prioritise what it spends and that the nurses would be paid “at some point”.

He added that “things are tight” with the government finances, adding: “One thing civil servants know is that the government will owe you, but the government will pay you. It’s guaranteed that you will be paid. Now sometimes it’s late, but you will be paid.”

So have we been promising money we don’t have? That’s effectively borrowing money from the workers – will they be repaid with interest?

Financially, the country is in a difficult state – anyone can see that without the economic gears turning, the bills keep going up and the money just isn’t coming in. Perhaps the nurses can’t be paid right now – but then that should have been clear up front – before they made the commitment to work and to give their time without the promise of money right away.

Meanwhile, they are justifiably pointing to contracts given out to pay for sidewalks instead of to pay nurses what they are owed. If nothing else, nurses deserve to be given straight answers – will they be paid, when will the money be coming and if it isn’t coming in a hurry, what the government will be doing to make up for it.

The flip side of it is this – if the government is up front with nurses about the situation, they might just take it on board and dig in until the financial situation improves, with the promise of a much improved salary when that time comes. Nurses are in high demand around the world right now – if we don’t treat ours the right way, they may just look for opportunities elsewhere when such a move is possible.

Nygard blow

Another day, another blow for Peter Nygard. In November 2019, Mr Nygard was sentenced to 90 days in prison here in The Bahamas for contempt of court – plus a fine. The sting was that for every day Mr Nygard failed to comply with the court’s judgement, he faced an extra $5,000 fine. That could cost him an extra $2,225,000 after his appeal of that contempt conviction was refused yesterday.

The matter at the heart of it was simple – he was ordered not to publish stolen emails from the environmental group Save the Bays then sought to use the documents in a court action in New York.

It’s probably not too surprising to see his contempt for the court upheld – if the allegations against him are upheld, then it merely adds to the contempt for his purported victims, and for the laws of The Bahamas themselves if it is true that he bribed politicians and police officers.

Yesterday’s ruling is one more black mark against the reputation of Mr Nygard, who sought to wiggle off the hook with his appeal only to find himself thoroughly caught.

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