BY ALICIA DUNKLEY WILLIS
Observer senior reporter
CHAIRMAN of the Infrastructure and Physical Development Committee of Parliament, North Central Clarendon member of Parliament Pearnel Charles, has warned that the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP), now in its second phase, will be the death of the National Works Agency.
Concerns about the management of phase two of JEEP dominated the last meeting of the Committee at Gordon House in Kingston, with several members of Parliament -- with few exceptions -- voicing dissatisfaction with the selected package of works under JEEP II, the method of selection of those works, as well as the speed with which the work is being carried out.
"We have to really do something about this matter. The public is watching you, the politicians are watching you. I must confess, if you continue in this same direction...I tell you the honest truth...you are the one who is going to get the blame...JEEP is going to destroy the image of the NWA from a political point of view. If you don't take charge, the political image is going to overrun you and you are going to start getting demonstrations at your desk," Charles warned.
The issues outlined by North Central St Andrew member of Parliament Karl Samuda were at the heart of the grouses expressed by members during the meeting recently.
"I have to deal with the NWA CEO, the deputy CEO, the manager for the parish and the JEEP secretariat, so I have to deal with three sets of people in three different locations to get a road patched. This is an antiquated, archaic return to a level of inefficiency in the handling of road maintenance that I thought we had gotten rid of. What you need within the NWA is a small team to get them done and shorten the distance between them and the representative ....It is time-consuming and confusing," Samuda declared.
Samuda was of the opinion that the Committee should draft a resolution calling on the JEEP secretariat to appear before the committee post-haste to address their concerns and "give a detailed explanation of the methodology governing the entire project". That opinion was shared by almost all Committee members -- government and opposition alike. Government member of parliament for South St Catherine Fitz Jackson, however, did not agree.
"As a committee, our task is to mobilise the best approach to influence a report that we will submit to the House, and in the meantime we implore the NWA to respond to the concerns members have raised. Where there is a policy structure coming out of the ministry that guides their action, the place for us to put that is in the House where the minister from Cabinet who sets the policy resides or where we have access to," Jackson said.
According to the MP, while he could understand the concerns with the apparent bureaucracy the secretariat has "no control over that".
"They have to operate within their instructions in respect of the JEEP secretariat...it is the ministry. I would urge that perhaps the best thing we do (is) fast-track our report in the House and seek to have it debated and the concerns posited there because they can't change the structure. They don't have the remit to do it and, the truth be told, put them on the spot, even if they feel so, they can't say it here. So don't bother barking up a tree that won't carry us anywhere," Jackson appealed.
Chief Executive Officer of the NWA EG Hunter, weighing in on the issue at that meeting said "project selection will always be a controversial issue, particularly when the need far exceeds the resources to deliver".
"The rationale for project selection is something I myself have been wrestling with and I have had discussion at the level of the ministry but there is an emerging thesis: some projects are constituency-based and have their genesis in advocacy by the members of Parliament, while others are considered national-based and have their genesis in a prescription put forward by the agency and are not confined to any one constituency," Hunter said.
"Not because a project does not appear on the JDIP/JEEP list, means it is being ignored," he added.
Noting that "the matter of the delay in the roll-out of JEEP II has been well debated" the NWA CEO said "where we are now in JEEP II is the best place we have been in many, many weeks".
"The $750-million islandwide patching programme that is the first element of JEEP II and that is already on the road, the only remaining element of JEEP II is $30 million, that is going to be undertaken in two tranches. The NWA will manage one and there is the other component which comes through the secretariat," he said.
The provision of jobs under JEEP was a major campaign promise of the People's National Party in the lead-up to the December 2011 polls, which the party won by a landslide. The programme, which the party says is its answer to Jamaica's chronic unemployment problem, is being funded with money redirected from the controversial Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme, as well as from the Tourism Enhancement Fund. Under phase one of the project some $10 million was allocated to all 63 constituencies with over 6,000 persons reportedly being employed.