by Kevon Browne
St. Kitts and Nevis (WINN): The Alternative Lifestyle Pathway Fund, or the “Peace Program”, was described by the previous administration as a government program aimed at engaging at-risk and marginalised individuals in properly structured legitimate activities.
The Alternative Lifestyle Pathway Programme was launched on March 13 2019 and was expected to be an initiative with an expiry date.
How does the program work?
The program is an intervention strategy designed to allow individuals to learn, adopt and display acceptable behaviours and become positive contributors to the nation’s development.
Participants were exposed to soft skills; communication, and listening skills, problem solving, anger management, integrity, responsibility, accountability, stress management, financial literacy and more.
They were also exposed to hard skills in construction, carpentry, masonry, AC installation and servicing, motor vehicle service and repairs, welding, primary electrical and electronics, general cosmetology, basic sound engineering, and landscaping. Participants were expected to receive certification for components that were completed.
According to budget estimates, the period for the program spanned three years, 2020-2022, with an allocated budget of EC$31 million.
During the reading of the 2021 Budget, then Opposition Leader Rt. Hon. Dr. Denzil Douglas raised questions about the allocation of finances for the program.
Then Deputy Prime Minister Shawn Richards explained that in the 2021 budget estimates, volume II, pages 05-20, the total estimated cost for the Peace Initiative was EC$31 million (over three years), with the expected expenditure for 2021 at EC$10 million.
What was the actual expenditure for the Alternative Lifestyle Pathway Fund?
Prime Minister Hon Dr Terrance Drew, in a one-on-one interview with SKN Newsline’s Andre Huie, explained that this year, the last year the program was expected to operate under the previous administration, already blew the annual budget in June with a monthly spend of EC$2 million on average.
“How it was administered… it was administered almost as if one man controlled everything, and that was Len Harris. In terms of the manager of the finances of the Peace program, that has been horrible, no accountability. There was a budget of EC$10 million, and that budget was busted in June. The program is probably about EC$2 million a month or more per month. They busted the budget. We can’t account for a lot of the money. We know that a lot of the money did not reach the guys who are on the program; that money went somewhere else,” said Dr. Drew during the interview on September 28.
Apart from the budgetary issue of the program, the Prime Minister said there were no provisions to have Social Security paid for those on the program, similar to how Social Security provisions were made for people on the Skills Training Empowerment Program (STEP).
Dr. Drew also shared that the number of participants in the program grew by more than 100 percent between June and August of this year, from 600 to about 1,300 people.
“There are persons in the hierarchy in the committee who have said they knew nothing about the numbers exploding that much on the program. So it went from here and just exploded just before the elections, which tells me it was used as an election gimmick. But I’m concerned about where a lot of the money went; that $10 million was busted quickly, and we know that there were channels where the money went … that has been stopped, but we know the cost of it.”
The Prime Minister said it was discovered that much of the funds allocated to the program did not make it into the hands of the participants and expressed that he was sad to learn that fact.
The question remains – where did the money go?
Although the program has been a controversial topic since its inception, Coordinator of the Alternative Lifestyle Pathway Programme (ALPP), Major Kayode Sutton, said the program had made intangible gains in March of this year.
What is the future of the program?
The program continues, and according to the Prime Minister, they are working on improving the initiative.
“We are moving now in a position to create transparent [and] open programs, where we’ll give people on the program opportunity to advance themselves. Some might be interested in going to study. Some might be interested in small businesses; some might be interested in pursuing other things… so we want the program to be open, transparent and so forth. And to make sure that we create a program that our people will be pleased with, so of course, that takes time to transition. But the commitment that we have given is that we will not leave anybody without bread. We will make sure that we put something in place Social Security is paid, and we’ll make sure that there are alternative opportunities for the persons on the program.”
One of the prevailing arguments against the Peace Program stems from the impact on families who suffered at the hands of gang violence.
Dr. Drew shared that the government is working on providing support to the children who were directly impacted.
“We are also going to look at those children who are left behind as a result of the direct impact of losing, predominantly, their fathers as a result; so that you can build some sort of balance to the program. [We want to create] what you call the Department of Social Protection. That is why we have put the PAP, we have put the Step, Housing, Social Services, [Ageing], and so forth under one umbrella called Social Protection. Peace did not go there because Peace is seen as a National Security issue, and so it has, in earnest, remained with me. We have kept our commitment that we wouldn’t just cut funding and cut off people, but we will seek to see what is taking place… What I see with the abuse of the funding and how one person basically was the Lord over this program was a very sad thing to discover even though it was suspected.”
The Prime Minister said the government is committed to keeping the controversial program transparent and free of corruption.