By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
LONG Island MP Loretta Butler-Turner has slammed the government’s new apprenticeship programme for being an “election ploy” as she questioned how it was different from the heavily criticised 52-week job placement plan implemented under the Ingraham administration.
Mrs Butler-Turner, who served as State Minister of Social Development in the last Free National Movement (FNM) administration, said it was also evident the government was “absolutely devoid” of any original ideas.
She castigated the Christie administration over its lack of transparency, telling The Tribune that the government had yet to explain how the $20m allocated to a similar programme during the 2015 fiscal year was spent.
The former FNM Deputy Leader said the fact that the government has re-crafted this programme shows that the Ingraham administration’s jobs plan was a good initiative.
“I am very surprised that the PLP has finally decided to realise that what the FNM was doing was a good programme,” Mrs Butler-Turner said yesterday. “I don’t care how they re-package it. The reality is it was an apprenticeship programme that the Ministry of Labour and Social Development was doing in conjunction with the private sector and the Chamber of Commerce to ensure that people who were laid off during the recession of 2007 and 2008 were re-tooled and re-skilled.
“Of course we received a lot of criticism from the PLP about it, but clearly it demonstrates now that the Christie administration realises it was a good programme and, secondly, they are absolutely devoid of any original ideas in terms of jump starting our economy.
“So it comes as no surprise to me that the Prime Minister is trying to dress this up with a different name. What does surprise me however is the fact that there was $20m allocated in this current fiscal budget for such a programme and now there is another $22m. I’d like to ask the question of what happened to the $20m that was earmarked for this year?”
The MP said she also found it curious that the programme will be run from the Office of the Prime Minister.
“This is a ploy to try and get people to work at taxpayers’ expense, but of course this does nothing but to try and get a few thousand people to work so that they may be employed for a short period of time and the government has to foot the bill.
“What I find really curious is the fact that the programme is being run out of the Office of the Prime Minister and nothing that the Prime Minister has done thus far has come to fruition. So where do we go from here?
“Essentially the Prime Minister’s programmes have failed abysmally. If he was serious about getting these people involved in learning new skill sets they would have brought on board the private sector and those persons who can ensure that these individuals are going to be accredited at the end of the day.”
Perry Christie announced on Wednesday that the government will launch a $22m apprenticeship programme aimed to reduce youth unemployment.
The programme will be jointly managed by the Office of the Prime Minister and the National Training Agency, he said.
Mr Christie said that under the government’s new programme, people will be “paid to work and train in a very formal manner, with certification on completion of the apprenticeship period”.
Perhaps anticipating criticism, Mr Christie said the programme is unlike the 52-week jobs programme created by the former Ingraham administration in 2011 that was bashed by the PLP, then in opposition, as an attempt to sway votes ahead of the 2012 general election.
That programme paid and placed Bahamians who were unsuccessful at finding jobs in various positions in both the private and government sector. The employers then had the option to permanently hire the workers if they so desired after 52 weeks.
Mr Christie has called the programme “scandalous”, claiming it allowed participants to collect a pay cheque without showing up to work. The PLP cancelled the plan shortly after winning the last election.
In the 2015/2016 fiscal year, the government allocated $20 million to Urban Renewal to deal with youth unemployment. That programme was launched in conjunction with the Inter-American Development Bank.
There has not yet been a public accounting of the progress made under that programme.