Belmopan City Council workers and Transport officers have, once again, not been paid. Workers say that the issue has been reoccurring since April. So today, during their designated break, the members of the Christians Workers Union walked out of the City Council office and left their workstations to protest the fact that they had not been paid. Over 20 members stood at the main entrance of the City Hall building to send a message to the council. The Union
sent a letter to the Council last week when reports were made to the Union that employees were not paid. A letter was sent back to the Union signed by the City Administrator saying the workers would be paid by today. However, at midday today, they had still not been paid. We spoke to Ralston Frazer, the City Administrator of Belmopan, who confirmed that the email was received and responded to by the Council.
Ralston Frazer, City Administrator Belmopan City Council: Yes, we did receive that email. In fact the email was addressed to the Mayor, certain people, but myself inclusive as the City Administrator (CA). I will tell you I was a little bit hesitant to respond to the email, but it was the Mayor who told me, he said ‘you know what, CA go and respond to the email’, which I did. In short, I just let the union know that we acknowledge our failed attempt to have made sure that members of the council, particularly of the union had received their salaries on the day that they would usually receive it, but we have all intent and purposes for that to have been attended. When I said in that email, I think I said it was for yesterday evening, yeah, but unfortunately it turned out that it’s been fully attended today. Yes we did receive an email, yes I did respond to the email as directed by the Mayor.
As we said, the issue has been reoccurring since the month of April. We asked the City Administrator to respond to reports suggesting that the Belmopan City Council is out of cash. Here is how he responded.
Ralston Frazer, Administrator Belmopan City Council: That’s a question that cannot be sufficed by answering yes or no, but for the records I will say no. The council is not out of money, you will realize that our electricity is still running, our water is still running etcetera. Do we have some challenges? Yeah, we do. Do we collect all the monies that should come from the general society for which we need to run the council? No, we’ve been having problems with collections. And you know what? Fair is fair. I don’t know, may be some of the very employees who are being emotional (and I understand) over the situation are some the people that owe taxes. This have been brought to the attention of the council and the council I believe had put something in place, I think in their last caucus meeting, where they are going to make an attempt to render this situation as fixed. But yes, this had happened before and this will happen again.
As you heard, Frazer indicated that this issue is likely to occur again. Mayor Khalid Belisle is reportedly out of the country. As a result, we were unable to get him for comments. Several City Council employees are of the opinion that Mayor Belisle should be in his office working, in order to ensure that staff members are paid. The City Administrator also responded to those comments.
Ralston Frazer, Administrator Belmopan City Council: In a nutshell, one would want to say yes, but I asked this question that would serve perfectly if in anticipation the mayor would have known that this would have happened. I mean, I believe that the person whom he is, if he would have known this would have happened, this would have been the end result of today, yesterday being the end of the month. I think the mayor would have done whatever he needed to have done to not let this be the case. I think it is a little bit unfair for anybody, myself inclusive for anybody to have said that the mayor saw this coming and wilfully walked away from it by absenting himself from the country. The mayor has responsibilities other than what he has locally and he is sometimes called to respond to those responsibilities and I believe that’s one that he has responded to now. But the situation is where he has a staff who I believe is quite capable of handling this situation and where there might have been some form of delay to make amends and fix the situation. And for me that’s the important thing. Do we see the light at the end of the tunnel? Can this thing be fixed? Is this thing going to be fixed? And as I told you a few seconds ago, I have been given all assurances in which I place much confidence that before today is out, that situation is going to be attended to.
. So, if the council was unable to pay their workers yesterday as promised, where did the money come from to make payments today? According to Frazer, finances were not where they were supposed to be yesterday. However, the monies collected by the Council today added the balance.
Ralston Frazer, Administrator Belmopan City Council: There is a difference in there is no money and there is not all the money. The council receives its revenue based on collections through our collectors who at the end of each day would bring in what they would have collected, he council receives its revenue based on people who would walk in and pay at the cashier, deposits done on daily basis at our bank. The council receives its revenues its revenue through all these areas which comprises of traffic, garbage, property fee etcetera. And so when this money come in bit by bit, sometimes at the end of the month, it is not yet where it is supposed to be. May be they are a few thousand dollars short, may be ten or twenty thousand dollars short and so the council would be dependent on the next day’s collection in other to make that amount before that button can be pushed and I think that’s what happened in this situation. We anticipated yesterday and at the end of yesterday’s deposit, I believe it was at the point where we were able to fully make the payment and so that is happening today.
Over 98 staff members, including Managers, are being affected by the salary delay. Late this evening, CWU’s president, Evan X Hyde Jr., met with the workers in Belmopan. We Spoke with Hyde after his meeting with Union members. He gave us the Union’s position on the matter.
CWU’s president, Evan X Hyde Jr.: Today, the staff had a small gesture of I would say trying to get the management and the council here to understand that this matter is very serious. And so I’m here this evening to speak to that, to speak to the fact that they are absolutely within their right to expect and to be able to stand up and assert that they want their salaries on the due date. They must have a certainty of what the pay cycle is and for me that is a fundamental expectation. And so there is nothing wrong, nothing disrespectful, no ulterior motives, it’s just a man or a woman saying I have done my honest week or two weeks or a month’s work and now I want to be paid with certainty. That’s just what they are asking and so I am here to basically make sure that those who have demonstrated the courage to be able to step forward, to have them understand that they are doing what is right.
According to Hyde, the Christian Workers Union has been more than patient in dialoguing with the Council.
CWU’s president, Evan X Hyde Jr.: That the records are there to show that the union has been very patient and has been very open minded and has been very cooperative. In fact, if some of the very fundamental thing that we have asked for is a problem, if we won’t meet our payroll. Then give us the heads up, give our members the heads up, because that might help in mitigating some of the financial difficulty that are incurred by the uncertainty of when you are going to get your money. So we have been trying, listen sir, if someone comes to your yard, spends the day, chops the yard, may be it is the old fashioned machete that they use in the sun. And he expects that when ‘I’m finished here, I would have a certain remuneration, I would be able to go home, put food on the table, and give something to his wife. Sir, I don’t know if anybody have ever chopped your yard, but I would suppose you have an idea of how that person would respond if on the completion of the task you say well, I’m unable to pay you today, why don’t you check me tomorrow? And then may be the person is patient enough to check you tomorrow and you still are uncertain as to when that person is going to get paid. I believe that the individual is not trying to be malicious when that individual says ‘well listen I need my pay?’ So it is not about being malicious.
According to workers, they were told late this evening that their salaries were transferred to their accounts and that they will not be able to access it until 3 p.m. tomorrow evening.