In its current form, the Short Term Employment Programme (STEP) forces me, every time I see those workers in action, to recall the sordid stories of our fore-parents toiling in the hot plantation sun, sweating like pigs only to be paid with morsels off their masters’ tables. Of course the poor brainwashed forced immigrants thought that the morsels that they were fed with was manna from heaven.
So it would not have been surprising to find them lined at those tables singing songs like ‘food at last, food at last; thank God we are getting food at last’. ‘Food at last’ but free they weren’t. A skeptic or conspiracy theorist will find enough ammunition in the STEP program to suggest or create the perception that the government is intent on keeping a certain section of the society poor for life! Why would succeeding governments treat their poor in that fashion? What is the reasoning behind it? Don’t ask me, it eludes me too!
The country would have spent a minimum of 72 millions of dollars, most of which were debt financed; on STEP-like programs from 1997 to present. What have all of those monies done for the poor? From all indications, the STEP program is a colossal waste of the time of our poor, not to mention the country’s taxpayers’ money. At best, the programme makes poor people feel comfortable for a short while but guarantees them a return ticket back to their former States Of Poverty (SOP) on the next line waiting for another SOP from government. This is dehumanizing and is definitely not in the best interest of the poor! We must liberate our poor, empower them and stop patronizing them! Please help them change their social contexts to become productive and economically independent citizens.
It hurts me to see young school leavers having to be part of this program, cutting grass. As a kid I remember that those jobs were given to prisoners to be done. Prisoners were the ones who used to clean the waysides in work gangs as part of their punishment. What crime have those poor people committed? We are a nation of thinkers and innovators; we can do better than that for our poor. We produced two Nobel Laureates within 10 years, a feat yet to be eclipsed by the mighty United States of America. I am convinced that we can do better for our poor. Mr Prime Minister, let’s rethink the STEP program.
If this program must continue, let’s modify it to give those people real jobs, where they can contribute meaningfully to national development and economic growth and yes, to relish some degree of self esteem as do the rest of us. Our suggestion therefore, is to convert the STEP program into a small business assistance program where the STEP workers would be organized into workgroups with permanent tenure to provide assistance to small and struggling businesses to help make them more competitive which would in turn improve their growth potential and their ability to absorb more of our unemployed citizens. With that change the STEP workers would be in the position to safely say that they are no longer poor as they would have taken that small step up the social ladder into the working class.
That would have changed their entire world making it possible for them to take credit to house, cloth and feed themselves without having to stretch a hand out to a politician—then they will sing with pride and dignity the words of this old negro spiritual—“free at last, free at last; thank God we are free at last”.
So Mr Prime Minister, if you really want to alleviate poverty in Anse La Raye and Canaries and the rest of the country; here is your opportunity—urgently make that change to the STEP program. In the long run, would you want such a failed program to be your legacy?