Government will reform the National Environmental Enhancement Programme (NEEP).

This disclosure came today from Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, after a near two-hour meeting, at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, with those employees who were recently laid off from the programme, which was administered by the Ministry of Environment and Drainage.

Mr. Stuart, along with the Minister of Environment and Drainage, Dr. Denis Lowe, and Minister of Labour and Social Security, Dr. Esther Byer Suckoo, addressed the laid off workers; while the Minister of Social Care, Steven Blackett, and officials from the various ministries were in attendance.

The Prime Minister told the media afterwards: ???What we have to do and what the Ministry of the Environment is committed to doing and has already embarked upon is a restructuring of the programme, put[ting] it on a completely different footing, where funding can be accessed for it with a little more convenience than at present; so that as many as possible of the persons now involved in the programme can be absorbed and we can continue with the work that those workers were doing.???

He pointed out that such a programme was necessary since the rain would still fall; there would be a need for de-bushing across the island and drainage problems would still occur.

Mr. Stuart indicated that the unemployed workers would receive separation packages which were now being quantified by the Ministry of Environment, ???and will engage the attention of Parliament not too long from now???.

He disclosed that Government would also put in place advisory mechanisms for the workers in case they needed advice on how to make effective use of their packages. ???In addition to that, they have been made aware by the Minister of Labour [Dr. Byer Suckoo] ???that there is still that $10 million training fund available and that there will be opportunities for training with a stipend attached??? So, there is not all darkness ahead. There is some light and we intend to work with these men and women and help them to keep their lives together,??? he remarked.

Giving the background to this morning???s meeting, the Prime Minister said he thought it necessary to meet directly with the affected workers in the Programme, which was introduced in August 2008 and employed 392 persons.

He continued: ???I myself was not terribly amused at the way in which the matter was handled at the end of the year. But, given all the information that was drawn to my attention, I fully appreciated that the Ministry of the Civil Service and the Ministry of Environment found themselves in a fairly tight time schedule. So, I really felt I needed to express my regret to the workers that the matter was handled as untidily as it was??? But of course, I gave the explanation and they understood.???

During the meeting, Mr. Stuart thanked the laid-off employees for the excellent work they did over the past five years and described them as ???a remarkable set of people who gave of their best in the programme???.

He told the media that during the meeting some workers not only thanked the Government, but also informed the officials that they had not been working since 1991. [They said that] when this lifeline came in 2008, it had a transforming influence on their lives,??? he disclosed.

Prime Minister Stuart added that the discussions went well, with some workers expressing themselves quite vigorously, and he stressed that it was to be expected because it was a traumatic experience.

NEEP was developed to empower some citizens who were on Government???s welfare programme.

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