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HomeNewsLocal NewsDwyer Astaphan questions longevity, sustainability and need for social assistance programs

Dwyer Astaphan questions longevity, sustainability and need for social assistance programs

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by Eulana Weekes

St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): Social Activist Mr Dwyer Astaphan calls social assistance programs unproductive as they continue to cost the government millions with no sign of moving from reliance on government assistance to self-reliance.

In one of his weekly commentaries, the retired politician questioned the effectiveness of the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis spending approximately EC $140,000,000.00 per year through the Skills Training Empowerment Programme (STEP), Poverty Alleviation Programme (PAP) and Alternative Lifestyle Pathway Programme (Peace Programme).

“There are about 2,600 people on STEP and by my reckoning, the programme costs the Government, the taxpayers, that’s you and me, about EC$60,000,000.00 per year. The 2600 STEP workers represent about 1 in every 12 workers in this country; that is a high number, and the majority of people on STEP are under the age of 45, which really means that 2,600 of our workers who are in the prime of their productive lives are on a job subsidy programme, STEP. There could hardly be anything more dangerous for a country when that many of its people, worst yet, that many of its younger people, are on a job subsidy programme. If a tiny country like ours is properly and efficiently governed, if its people are well trained educationally and socially if economic and social opportunities exist for all, a programme like STEP, while it might still be necessary, would be small and the people enrolled on it would only be on it for a brief period and then they would move on and it certainly would not cost EC $60,000,000.00 a year.”

Astaphan said that the efficiency of the Government and good leadership would save the taxpayers money and create a more productive environment economically and socially for the people of St. Kitts and Nevis. He explained that for the past 17 years, specifically outlining the past seven years, the STEP programme wouldn’t have so many people enrolled if the country were efficiently governed. He proposed the need for individuals to graduate from STEP to better jobs or economic and social advancements.

In addition, Astaphan noted that the STEP had been abused over the years and now has to be cleaned up by the new administration under the leadership of Hon. Dr Terrance Drew.

“In the meanwhile, some callous employers have exploited the STEP Programme, enjoying free labour and paying no Social Security. I am not talking about struggling little businesses. I am talking about established businesses which are freeloading on the Government and on the country, and when the Government gets shafted, it is always the small man and woman who gets the worst of it. Dr Drew and his team has a lot of mess to clean, and it’s not just a mess of incompetence by former leaders; it is also a mess of corruption, as any quick examination of the record would show. Can you imagine people living abroad on the STEP and on other programmes?

PAP, introduced by the Team Unity Administration within the last seven years, was geared towards providing financial assistance in the sum of EC $500.00 monthly to households earning less than EC $3000.00 per month. As disclosed by Deputy Prime Minister Hon. Dr Geoffrey Hanley, on Sunday, November 27, there were 7,469 households on the PAP. 

“Seven thousand four hundred and sixty-nine households are more than one-third of all of the households in the nation. So, tell me, “How can St.Kitts-Nevis be regarded as a successful country when more than a third of our households nationally have to rely on a monthly subsidy from the Government; that is to say, a monthly subsidy from the taxpayers, that’s you and me. If 7,469 households are getting $500.00 per month, that means that the taxpayers, you and me, have to fork out EC $45,000,000.00 a year on the PAP,” said Astaphan.

Astaphan said it is okay for the Government to give financial assistance to households, but where so many households require such assistance, then the people are probably not as stable as expected. He also suggested the possibility of corruption within the PAP, which, when taken into account, would likely lower the tally for assistance. As it relates to the situation where 100 civil servants were removed from the PAP, Astaphan suggests that a specific approach be taken to deal with the matter.

“Now, something needs to be done with regards to the people’s money which those public servants got from the PAP, that they should not have gotten and if any Minister or any other public officer  authorised or directed that such payments be made to persons who are not eligible to receive those payments, that Minister and or public officer should be made to pay back every cent to the Government.”

Meanwhile, Astaphan also spoke about the Alternative Lifestyle Pathway Programme, also known as the Peace Programme, mentioning that about 1,000 persons ranging from late teens up towards middle-aged individuals are enrolled on it. He said, just like the STEP, the targeted age range are persons who are at the prime of their life.

He stated, “By my reckoning, this programme cost the taxpayers about EC $35,000,000.00 per year. So if you add up all three, you’re looking at about EC $140,000,000.00 per year. That’s a lot of money and makes up a significant portion of our annual national budget. Also, note that the 1,000 persons on the Peace Programme represents 2 percent of our national population. This is not a flattering statistic. Yes, it is good, and it is necessary to provide assistance and guidance to our young people so that it will help them get on the right track, but when we have a programme which by itself, in little St. Kitts and Nevis has 1,000 of our young, strong and in many cases very bright citizens, then we have a big problem in this little country; a problem whose origins as I have indicated before, go back to the 1980s and which was allowed to fester over the decades.”

Astaphan did not deny that the PAP, STEP and PEACE Programmes have been beneficial to people but also stated that the best tests of success of programmes are to figure out whether or not they have advanced the cause of the citizens enrolled in the programmes by having them graduated from the programmes into self-reliance and economic and social stability and also to ascertain whether or not the programmes advanced the cause of the nation as a whole.

The Social activist said the Government must invest money in the nation’s youth but reiterated that it must be done correctly and in order. Astaphan also opined that with so many people enrolled in the social safety net programmes, he is yet to see improvement as it relates to the intellectual, social and economic potential of the people. He said he does not think that the social programmes have achieved the level of success that they should and could have.  

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