by PAM CARES
This is the burning question on the minds and from the mouths of hundreds of our citizens – students, parents, lecturers, management officers in the nation’s advanced learning institutions and concerned citizens generally. Given the prevailing climate of hardship and uncertainty, the deep cutbacks in and sudden closure of several Government safety nets and assistance programmes, this is indeed a critical question that begs an urgent and precise answer. But the powers-that-be continue to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the cries and suffering of the masses; the very people this present government claims to care so much about.
The SAFE (Support for the Advancement of Further Education) fund/programme was established in 2016 by the Team Unity Government to be awarded to deserving citizens of St. Kitts-Nevis enrolled at the Clarence Fitzroy Bryant College (CFBC), the Advanced Vocational Education Centre (AVEC), the Nevis Sixth Form College, and persons undertaking Level 1 studies at the University of the West Indies. Apart from having their tuition paid in full, for many recipients that additional $250.00 per month payment was nothing to scoff at as it supplemented scarce financial resources, much needed to purchase necessary supplies as they embarked on the next step in their academic journey.
Similar programmes that were either introduced or fully supported by the Team Unity Government included the Poverty Alleviation Programme (PAP), assistance with medical fees for persons travelling abroad, the Uniform Assistance and School Meals programmes; to name just a few. The Team Unit Government was innovative, visionary, flexible and compassionate; subscribing to the old adage that circumstances alter cases. As such they implemented and supported a variety of initiatives to meet our citizens where they are and provide the necessary frameworks to help them make ends meet.
Not so with this dismissive, thoughtless, heartless, reckless Government. While they have unceremoniously brought the PAP to a screeching halt they continue gallivanting and jaunting across the globe; the latest being a huge entourage of joyriders off to London to “see the King” supposedly “on Government business”. Imagine, since this Government took over the reins of power in August of 2022 not a single student has received a single cent from the SAFE programme. The absence of this safety net is no doubt a double whammy in many households, where the moms and dads of deserving students are already being adversely affected by the absence of PAP, coupled with the ever-increasing cost of living. What a tragedy!!
While these safety nets are being pulled out from under the feet of our citizens, billions of dollars will be paid to a foreign company, purportedly to manage a housing scheme. And how did citizens first learn of this? From an article published in a Trinidad newspaper. Once the egg ‘buss’ there was a scampering after-the-fact to “formally announce” the glad tidings. The Deputy PM was at pains, practically breathless in his feeble attempts to do damage control. Hands flailing, he was suddenly very forthcoming with all kinds of glorious and glowing details, explanations and…yes, promises of course. But don’t be fooled by empty promises and rhetoric. When it suits their purposes they dangle the proverbial carrot, treating the masses like children who are told every day, you will get it “tomorrow” to keep us holding on to hopeless hope. And the masses are expected to smile, believe and wait – the oldest trick in the book. But promises will not help the nation’s students to purchase their school supplies, they will not buy the groceries, they will not pay the rent, electricity or water bills, they will not pay bus fare or buy cooking gas. While we applaud the housing scheme in principle, these are the practical, bread and butter realities that the average citizen must grapple with on a daily basis. Of course, these government ministers and their minions are so busy flying high, literally and otherwise, that they are out of touch with the people on the ground. Not even a year in government as yet and they can’t hear, or worse yet are choosing to ignore the cries of the masses for support, assistance and intervention. Like their predecessors this Labour Government is nothing but a farce; all froth and no mauby, smoke and mirrors to distract and take advantage of the masses, the poor and the oppressed. What a shame! What a disgrace!!
If this Government has a shred of decency left, any respect for its citizens, any compassion, any empathy, then they will resume the SAFE programme immediately. They must send the message to our young people in particular that they are a priority, that their Education is priority, that our people’s advancement and empowerment are a priority and an important pillar on which the overall sustainable growth and development of this Federation rests.
Our students deserve to have the SAFE programme at their disposal. Anything less will be a disservice to generations of our students, now and in the future.