Carl Gilchrist, Gleaner Writer
The highly anticipated Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP) failed to get off the ground in St Ann yesterday, with the Government all but admitting to misleading the nation.
Instead of an element of JEEP, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller launched a performance-based routine road-maintenance project for the North Coast Highway, funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to the tune of US$10 million.
The delay in launching the JEEP came amid claims by the previous Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) administration that the IDB-funded programme, which Junior Transport Minister Richard Azan claimed was part of JEEP, was its creation and not that of the ruling People's National Party (PNP).
"How could it be JEEP? I signed the memorandum of understanding on December 5 between the National Works Agency (NWA) and the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA)," former Transport and Works Minister Shahine Robinson had told The Gleaner on Monday.
During a People's National Party (PNP) National Executive Council meeting on Sunday in Ocho Rios, Simpson Miller had announced that the Government would launch "just one small part of JEEP" in creating 700 jobs across seven parishes along the nation's northern coastline.
But in declaring the roadworks programme open yesterday, Simpson Miller admitted that the agreement for the funding was signed on December 5 last year, more than three weeks before the December 29 general election.
"Every employment programme now is deemed to be JEEP. This programme is not a JEEP programme. As Dr Omar Davies said earlier, he will be announcing the launch of the JEEP," Simpson Miller told the gathering at Salem in Runaway Bay.
"I'm not taking anything away from anybody; the agreement was signed on December 5, 2011."
The prime minister added: "Let me on behalf of the Government and people of Jamaica express appreciation to the IDB for its continued assistance in helping us to realise our national development goal. Mr (Ancile) Brewster (IDB Jamaica country representative), you have our assurance of the highest level of probity and integrity in the execution and management of this programme."
On Monday, Brewster had indicated to The Gleaner that he was unaware of why the Government would have linked the IDB-funded project to JEEP.
Yesterday, Simpson Miller said activities under the programme would entail bushing and drain cleaning of 270 kilometres of roadway from Negril to Port Antonio.
She stressed that the project was not a partisan-political programme and that all members of parliament whose constituencies the programme would impact were invited to the launch.
Nine PNP and two JLP MPs are to select more than 600 of the workers for the programme.
One hundred of these workers will be trained by HEART Trust/NTA and the NSWMA under a training programme for which the IDB granted funds.
Simpson Miller said the project was one of the major components under the IDB-financed road-improvement programme.
"It is geared to providing support for road safety and I want to pause to say road safety is very important. We're having too many serious accidents on our roads and so I want to thank the IDB for placing a focus in its programme on road safety as well.
"Part of the challenge we have in this country, we will lay down some serious infrastructure, we will spend millions and millions of dollars but we have no proper maintenance in place and I'm very proud about the maintenance aspect of this programme," the prime minister said.
Transport, Works and Housing Minister Dr Omar Davies, in his comments, said while the agreement was signed by the previous administration, "this administration believes in continuity where there is a sensible programme".
Davies said where JEEP was concerned, he would be tabling ministry papers in Parliament to make JEEP a national programme, carried through Parliament so that all 63 MPs can ask questions about it.
"There will be full transparency and accountability. We will be able to account for every single dollar, every single cent. Not just for this but for every single programme by this administration," Davies declared.
Meanwhile, Brewster in his remarks stated: "The programme that we're about to set on its way today is part of yet another programme developed between the Government of Jamaica and the IDB to improve the quality and the standard of road maintenance in our major thoroughfares in Jamaica.
"The stated objective of the programme is to enhance mobility, safety, improve accessibility, lower transport costs, reduce accidents and all of this being done through the improvement of the level of maintenance of the roads."