Basseterre, St Kitts, September 5, 2019 – Former prime minister and Leader of the Opposition the Rt Hon Dr Denzil L Douglas said several of the young men who are now receiving money from the present government were gainfully employed on the PEP – People Empowerment Programme, which was initiated by his St Kitts-Nevis Labour Party (SKNLP) administration before leaving office in mid-February 2015.
“When the (Team Unity) Government came in many of them were taken off the PEP,” Dr Douglas said during Wednesday’s edition of Issues on Freedom 106.5 FM.
He again questioned the role being played by the Development Bank of St Kitts and Nevis which is headed by Mr Lenworth Harris, brother of Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dr Timothy Harris.
“We believe that if there is money to be passed to these gentlemen for work being done, why is the money coming from the hand of one brother (Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Dr Timothy Harris) and passed into the hand of another brother (Len Harris of the Development Bank of St Kitts and Nevis)? Why is it that only the development bank is being used? What is the role of Len Harris in this particular programme? We are saying there is good reason for the people to know what is really happening in this programme,” said Dr Douglas.
“The Labour Party is not against these young men receiving financial support, but it is a programme that involves millions of dollars. Why is it not being properly brought to the attention of the people of this country?” asked Dr Douglas.
“We now have an attempt. Some attempt being made by the government not only to give them financial support, but it appears to give them work so that it is not said that they are just being given money,” he said.
“We believe very strongly that what these young men are not in need of handouts of money like that, but opportunities so that they would be able to sustain their livelihoods. If they are being given money for work, let us make sure that the work that they are being given is sustainable work and not just simply work for the next few months because there is an ongoing election campaign. We want to make that position very, very clear,” said Dr Douglas.
He added: “The Labour Party in opposition now, will never tell the young men not to take money that is being given to them. We will never say that. What we are saying is that we would want them to understand that they need sustainable jobs to sustain their livelihoods, because it is not going to be possible for anybody to just give them money like that for a prolonged period of time, unless they are given some kind of productive work.
Our policy is to provide long-term sustainable jobs for these young men so that they can continue to work and have money to look after their families. We are also saying very, very clearly that we understand they were the ones who initiated this peace agreement among themselves and it is unfortunate that others would have latched on to it and trying to use it politically for their own political survival.”
Dr.Douglas stressed that money should be provided for work and not for the peace treaty, “but sustainable work, employment opportunities, because it creates confusion in the country.”
“Confusion among those who are working and getting a certain salary and those who are not working and getting higher salaries. That is what the public is saying. The Labour Party is saying there needs to be a balance,” Dr.Douglas said.
He further pointed out that since there is a high level of secrecy surrounding the programme, the Labour Party is again asking the Team Unity Government to give proper accountability to what is happening in the programme in which people are carrying around large amounts of cash and distributing it.
“Why is it that they are not being given payment in cheques like everybody else? Why is there no payroll deductions like Social Security? It is these irregularities that cause persons to ask again what is really going on? Why isn’t the government being open and transparent and give proper accountability to what is happening? asked Dr.Douglas.
Chairman of the Labour Party, Dr.Terrance Drew, pointed out that for the last four years of the Team Unity Government, the young men who were removed from the People Empowerment Programme when Dr.Harris took office, remained unemployed and could not find jobs.
“Just before an election, this secret programme is implemented. It tells me this is not a sustainable programme for the young men as it is not open and transparent. This Team Unity Government is hiding it because there is no intention of them continuing it if they win the election,” Dr.Drew said.
He noted that no social security or social services levy is being deducted from the payments.
“There is no long term plan and if any of you get sick or injured there would be no benefits. How would you live? How would your dependent children benefit?” Dr drew asked.
He gave the assurance that the Labour Party will implement programmes to ensure the young men can sustain themselves and their families.