Written by Valencia Grant Posted On: Friday, 17 February 2017
In a searing rebuke of the now-defunct People's Employment Program (PEP), Prime Minister Dr. the Honourable Timothy Harris listed the opportunity costs of the controversial PEP today, Thursday, February 16th, 2017, at the launch ceremony for its replacement, STEP [the Skills Training Empowerment Program]. STEP will deliver genuine skills training intended to provide updated and transferable skills, as well as upward mobility.
In his featured address, the Honourable Prime Minister told the large crowd at the Circus, where the Government of National Unity held the ceremony in the late afternoon, that PEP had gripped the public sector purse, shaking out of it $214 million – money that could have been put to better use in a myriad of ways and in a much more sustainable and transparent manner, for the benefit of the people of St. Kitts and Nevis.
"That is a lot of money," Prime Minister Harris, who is also the Minister of Finance, said. "That is nearly a quarter-billion dollars, and I want you to contemplate clearly what $214 million could have done towards the modernization and the proper development and training, not just of our country but of our people and the residents here. Two hundred and fourteen million dollars – it has cost this country to maintain a program intended to give an electoral lift to the administration, which was on its way out," Dr. Harris added.
The then-government launched the People Employment Program (PEP) on December 21st, 2012, a mere 16 days after Members of the Federal Opposition – who now make up the Government of National Unity – filed a Motion of No Confidence in the Douglas-led administration.
PEP would see more than 4,000 people ultimately participate in it. In comparison, the local civil service employs close to 5,000 people permanently.
This evening at the Circus, the Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis said the hastily concocted PEP served more to mask the unemployment and underemployment that existed in the country at the time of the program's creation while, on the other hand, doing very little to serve the interests of the trainees.
In fact, a productivity and performance assessment of PEP by the Caribbean Development Bank revealed that fewer than 140 of the more than 4,000 participants actually benefited from sustainable training.
Today, Prime Minister Dr. the Honourable Timothy Harris ran through a list of more sustainable and empowering alternative uses for the $214 million that was spent on PEP.
Prime Minister Harris said: "Imagine how many of you could have had your own homes had that money been properly spent...Tomorrow [Friday, February 17th at 9:30am on Wellington Road by the Baker's Corner area], we will launch another important Manifesto commitment, our Team Unity Housing Solutions...We have said that we will take $50 million to provide homes for 300 families...Multiply $50 million by four [$200 million] and you get 1,200 families that could have benefited had they put the money into alternative uses...That is how you must imagine it...What could $214 million have done for the development of our country? What could it have done to pave the roads left unpaved? What could it have done to bring modern health services to St. Kitts and Nevis?"
Dr. Harris continued: "Two hundred and fourteen million dollars – and the Basseterre High School was left unattended. Two hundred and fourteen million dollars could have built out the security infrastructure and made our country the safest country in the Caribbean. Two hundred and fourteen million dollars could have ensured that, through direct use of radar technology, our Coast Guard could have been well surveilled. Surveillance systems would have been put in, and the guns and the drugs, which come through the porous borders – an end would have come to that had there been better management and more judicious application of $214 million. Two hundred and fourteen million dollars could have built a modern court and judicial complex, rather than now it becomes a job for Team Unity. Two hundred and fourteen million dollars is the opportunity costs forfeited by our people from having to deal with an unwieldy and complex PEP program intended merely to satisfy the political expediency of the day. So today represents a Fresh Start and a new beginning in the way in which we manage the finances of the country."
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