Amongst much fanfare, the long awaited Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP) was launched on Thursday, March 22 at the Orchid Village Parking Lot off Barbican Road.

The Programme which is one of the strategies being employed by the Government to respond to the chronic unemployment status of some Jamaicans, particularly those in the lower socio-economic stratum, persons with special needs, those with low skill levels and those from under-served communities, was declared open by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller.

Under the Programme, approximately five thousand (5,000) persons will initially (Phase 1) be engaged in various types of work across the island. An important aspect of the Programme will be a training component which will involve multi-sectoral, inter Governmental and non-governmental co-ordination and liaison.

Speaking at the Launch, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller said that she was delighted to be a part of the launch as the JEEP was very dear to her heart. She characterized the Programme as ‘a promise made and a promise kept’.

Continuing, the Prime Minister said, “Under the JEEP, unemployed individuals will get an opportunity to earn a livelihood; to be able to send their children to school, and assist in taking care of their sick family member.

In placing the JEEP in context, Mrs. Simpson Miller highlighted the fact that Jamaica had not been spared the blows from the global recession and the devastating impact on the workforce. “We have seen unemployment climb from 9.6% in 2007 to 12.8% in July, 2011. Over 100,000 persons lost their jobs over the last 4 years. Poverty in 2007 was 9.8%. That jumped to almost 18% by the end of 2010.” It is against that background that the PM said that the JEEP ‘is an emergency response to a crisis’. “It is about putting our unemployed to productive work and much more. Being gainfully employed helps to restore hope and one’s dignity,” she noted.

In speaking to the operation of the Programme, the Prime minister said that in this Phase (1), under the JDIP Special Routine Maintenance Programme, work will be carried out in the parishes of Clarendon, St. Mary, Portland, St. Catherine and St. Ann. She said highlighted the fact that the very community of Standpipe where the launch was being held was benefitting from cleaning, repairing and the construction of retaining walls on the gully.

Also speaking at the Launch was Minister Omar Davies who stressed the fact that JEEP is a national programme and should not be seen in any partisan manner. He told the large audience present that the Programme was fiscally responsible and that the Launch was just the beginning of a very important initiative and that there was much more to come.He said that he knew that the Programme had undergone intensive scrutiny but that he would not tolerate any attempts to derail it.

And for his part, Opposition spokesman on Transport and Works, Mr. Karl Samuda said that he supported the Programme noting that it stood to benefit the workers of Jamaica. He however noted that the Opposition would be watching and monitoring the progress of the Programme so that it does not get ‘bogged down in bureaucracy’. He also explained that the Opposition was pleased about the training component attached to the Programme. Additionally, he wanted to hear more about the longevity of the initiative, noting that this would go a far way in making it even more meaningful.