Columns

JPS has a genuine case

Mark WIGNALL

Thursday, May 15, 2014    

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JENNY and her 50-year-old boyfriend, Henry, five years younger than her, 'captured' a piece of land in a then-quiet community in a hilly section of the parish of Clarendon in the early 1990s. She tells me that she doesn't feel too good about 'tiefing' light but, should she engage in a conversation with Henry, it would be a repeat of the last one they had.

"Dem ago seh ah we mash it up. Dem ago pressure wi."

No studies have been done to empirically define the total profile of the person and the domestic relationship inside a household where the illegal extraction of electricity happens.

What is most troubling are the answers to the following questions: 'Do they do it because they are socially and economically dis-favoured, or is it even worse? Are they culturally disposed to stealing and have they fallen into the mode as a result of that conditioning, where they have been convinced that, because they are 'sufferers', they have earned the right to scamming the State, Government and the majority who are paying for the service?'

One would have to be bordering on idiotic to not recognise that the politicians, many of whom have had national acclaim and official decoration, have been the ones who have actively encouraged this national thievery. And it all has to do with snatching power and holding on to it for life.

Housing schemes have been used to stir the national conscience of this nation, where those who are educated and earning regular income are made to feel socially guilty about those who are way down the socio-economic ladder.

The basic reasoning is -- as was perfected by the late PM Michael Manley -- the poor need a bigger jump at the start than those who have been empowered by education to have an unequal big start. Even the man and woman struggling to educate three children through university and eating callaloo on weekends would find, via an attack of conscience, some understanding of that position which empowers the lawless.

At some stage, however, reality must force itself to centre stage. Our politicians have sold their oil of evil and it has been bought in gallons. Only those who have got the benefit have had it paid for by those who have bought into the stupidity that if they abide by the law they will be protected and represented.

The Jamaica Public Service (JPS) has decided that providing electric power to communities where up to 70 per cent of it is stolen is quite obviously unviable as a business. The Office of Utilities Regulation, the Government and the leaderless Opposition all seem to believe that the JPS is still a government-controlled entity. The Government owns about 20 per cent.

Nothing irks those who are paying for light as those who abuse the 'right' given to them by our politicians. The household where light is stolen is probably the one to have switched on, right throughout the day, an outside light.

And, even if we were to adopt the metered 'pay as you go' system, as recently explained in a letter to The Gleaner, the capital outlay that would be needed to ensure its business success would be eventually passed on to those of us who have been doing the right thing and paying our way.

But, a solution must be found. Presently those law-abiding citizens who are connected to the JPS grid and are paying their monthly bills are paying for those who are stealing power, close to one-third of households in Jamaica, about the same percentage of the squatting community in Jamaica.

The best solution is for the better-off social classes to accept that JPS's injection of cash to fix the problem and bring it into a card-controlled, pay-as-you-go system is the only way to go.

What are the options? Should JPS decide to go with the option of curtailing power to communities where the 30 per cent who are paying customers must suffer because of the politics-induced, culturally accepted freeness mentality, anarchy is a reasonable expectation.

First, the lawless poor would spill their wrath on the lawful who believe one has a responsibility to pay one's way through life.

Second, as is happening before the first has had time to cement itself in the minds of troubled community members, the politicians have been out in full force to criticise JPS. Again, our people are being exposed to the epitome of a failed politics.

Which politician in any of the 63 constituencies is willing to accept that his constituents are thieves? None! Not a single one! Why? Because they have pushed for a lifetime the politics of freeness and, to get the next vote, they are forced to stand up for their lawless voters who represent about 70 per cent of their garrison power.

This country just messed up the EWI deal and we are now headed down a blind alley. But it appears to me that JPS has a big bargaining card.

If JPS turns out to be the only overseas-controlled entity (South Korea/Japan) that is likely to invest in the new LNG plant, the Government may have to play a two-mouthed game with the company. It may say to JPS -- behind closed doors -- that it understands its business pro-activity but, at the same time, kindly requests that it has the right to make noise -- political noise. Just, please understand the total picture.

There are places involved in small manufacturing in the city where a lot of heavy machinery is used and high prices are charged for their outputs. They, too, steal light; so it cannot be a matter solely of affordability.

The state has a duty to its poorest to empower them instead of supporting them. Sure, there has to be a balance, because a family has to eat to be able to see the next day. At some stage, however, it has to be preached and better, enforced, that freeness exists only in election catchphrases.

If lawless freeloaders and those who genuinely cannot afford to pay more than $2,000 per month decide to attack their neighbours who are paying, the politicians will target JPS in mouth. Beyond that, what can the Government do when JPS has the blade of the knife?

The simple answer is, all politicians must issue a joint statement standing up for law and order. If the politicians cannot do that, we may as well meet on that first battlefield.

observemark@gmail.com

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