BASSETERRE, ST. KITTS, AUGUST 19TH, 2016 – Prime Minister Dr. the Honourable Timothy Harris said at Tuesday’s Discussions for Prosperity Town Hall Meeting in St. Peter’s that his Team Unity administration will restructure the People’s Employment Programme (PEP) into a genuine Skills Training and Empowerment Programme (STEP).
This will present many more young people with opportunities to gain real work experience, as well as social mobility and empowerment, in St. Kitts and Nevis’ ever-growing economy.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in a press release last month, St. Kitts and Nevis has recorded “the strongest growth in the region.” As a result of this phenomenal growth, Prime Minister Harris wants to ensure that young people are equipped to take full advantage by participating meaningfully in the economic life of the country.
To help accomplish this, the Team Unity Government is accessing grant funding from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) to restructure PEP into STEP. Over the next five years, the government intends to spend over $25 million on technical and vocational education and training (TVET) to facilitate the transition of PEP beneficiaries into established jobs. STEP will provide them with level-one and level-two skills in practical areas, such as air-conditioning, carpentry, construction and joinery.
This investment will create a new cohort of homegrown entrepreneurs and provide a ready stream of local workers – thus minimizing the need for immigrant labour – to fill positions at the Park Hyatt, Koi Resort & Residences, Embassy Suites by Hilton and other exciting developments that are to open soon in the Federation. “It is better from the vantage point of his empowerment to teach a man to fish rather than give him a fish every day,” the Prime Minister said, adding that, “In revamping PEP to STEP, we will be training people to be their own businessmen and businesswomen.”
Prime Minister Harris continued: “These are the values that we want to inculcate into our people, not to say that we will put you on the PEP programme and we will pay you for doing nothing because it is taxpayers’ money being wasted. That’s what they [the previous Labour administration] were doing…So far [since the People’s Employment Programme began on December 21st, 2012 at a cost to the government of $360.00 per participant per week and approximately 4,000 participants benefitted from the programme during its peak in the run-up to the February 16th, 2015 general election] $180 million of your money was expended on the PEP programme.”
The Prime Minister explained that the people of St. Kitts and Nevis were shortchanged because a CDB study revealed in July 2015 that, startlingly, only 130 persons (114 females and 16 males) benefitted from sustainable training under the PEP programme. Essentially, the programme enabled hundreds of ghost workers who were on PEP’s payroll although they did little to no actual work.
“If you are on the PEP programme, you will have to do some work for the PEP money,” Prime Minister Harris told the large, receptive audience at the St. Peter’s Community Centre. “If you are not able to work for the PEP money, we shall ask you to leave. So it will be you turning away yourself because you will be refusing to make a contribution to the development of our country in a constructive way,” Dr. Harris added.