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Getting serious about reafforestation
The protest outside of the Office of the Prime Minister at St Clair last week had a familiar feel. Government contract workers protesting about their salaries and complaining of hardship and loss in the face of apparent indifference. But these were workers assigned to a critical role on the National Reafforestation and Watershed Rehabilitation Programme, an effort to replant denuded hillsides and to stop soil erosion, a major contributor to flooding during heavy rainfall in T&T.
John Belgrave, an area manager for the programme declared himself nonplussed by the annual tardiness in payments to support the critical work of 2,000 people. Cathy-Ann Francis, area manager for the Morvant branch of the programme added that the 35 people contracted for the programme had not received training or equipment for the work they had to do during the fire season.
On Thursday, Cabinet approved $24 million to fund the programme, but that seemed more like a knee-jerk response to the problem, not considered strategy. The reality of the situation is that payment for these workers comes from the unemployment levy through the URP, which gives the project the feel of make-work instead of an implementation of a serious ongoing strategic plan to manage the nation’s watersheds effectively.