Prime Minister, Allen Chastanet, has defended recent comments by Minister for Equity, Social Justice and Empowerment, Lenard Montoute, about employees of the National Initiative to Create Employment (NICE).
Montoute has been under fire from the opposition Saint Lucia Labour Party (SLP) after asserting that some 90 percent of NICE employees are labour supporters.
SLP leader, Philip J. Pierre, told a meeting of NICE workers in Gros Islet on Saturday that when Montoute declared that there would be no political fallout from terminating NICE employees, he was in effect telling theworkers to ‘go to hell.’
Prime Minister Chastanet was asked by reporters to respond to concerns expressed by former Gros Islet MP, Emma Hippolyte, that he was basically endorsing rather than correcting Montoute regarding his claim that ninety percent of NICE workers are SLP supporters.
Chastanet began by explaining that even through difficult, every government has to be transparent.
“I try to be as transparent as we can and we still get criticised so I know how difficult it is – I understand that’s the nature of the beast,” the Prime Minister observed.
He told reporters:
“How do you have a programme that you are going to spend $ 20 million a year on in which the project is managed out of the Prime Minister’s office? Does that make sense to you?”
Chastanet said the person who headed the programme was only accountable to the Prime Minister, while none of the persons employed could be part of the public service.
The Prime Minister said it was not a case where SLP supporters cannot be hired through the Public Service Commission (PSC).
But he explained that such a route would be more transparent.
Chastanet disclosed that 1100 people were being employed with one person making the decision.
“To make matters worse, the people were given a contract for a year – you can’t go to the bank to borrow any money; you can’t make any long term commitments via that process and the contract is being renewed every single year and then you tell me that the virtues of the project are to create short term employment to allow people to get their foot wet?” He told reporters.
According to Chastanet, up to ninety percent of the people who got NICE contracts in year one were the same people who had the contracts by year three.
“When you break it down from that perspective,then the minister (Montoute) is right in making his allegations,” the Prime Minister said, asserting that it was not the first time that such allegations regarding NICE have been made.
“That allegation was made from day one. What did they do to try to be able to change that? Did they put a panel in place of objective people and say: ‘Okay, if it is not going to be through the Public Service Commission, here’s a panel that is going to determine who is going to be hired and whether they merit getting the job or not?'” Chastanet told reporters.