Editorial

Tackling electricity theft will be tough, but necessary

Tuesday, May 20, 2014    

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It's going to be very difficult to deal effectively with the issue of electricity theft. Simply because this illegal activity is so deeply entrenched in the minds of many people that they actually believe they are entitled to the service for free.

That sense of entitlement is reflected in the comments of a man with whom the Sunday Observer spoke last week about this issue.

The man, who said he made a living from landscaping, declared that his minimum wage salary did not allow him to find the sums of money — as high as $15,000 — that he had heard other people saying that they paid for electricity.

Even after the newspaper reporter pointed out to him that his refusal to pay for what he was using meant that the electricity cost was passed on to other people who earn small wages, the man simply didn't care.

That, he said, was none of his business. As far as he was concerned, he was entitled to electricity and he had no plan to pay for the service.

Unfortunately, as we have said before, that's a widely held view that has been nurtured by political representatives who conveniently look the other way when their constituents break the law.

We did not sanction the decision by the Jamaica Public Service (JPS) to simply cut power to entire communities for at least 12 hours as a strategy to force compliance.

That sort of action, we repeat, resulted in customers without arrears being punished for those who are dead set on stealing electricity. In addition, it did not win the JPS any kudos in the area of customer relations and has seriously eroded the public relations gains the company made over the past few years.

However, we agree that the JPS must aggressively go after the people who steal electricity, for it is not only a crime, but a heavy cost to the country.

The figures provided last Thursday by Ms Kelly Tomblin, the president and CEO of JPS, make informative, if not startling reading. Each month electricity theft costs the JPS $1.8 billion. That, she pointed out, is approximately 18 per cent of the company's fuel bill. That cost, she pointed out, is shared by JPS — in which the Government of Jamaica has a stake — and its customers.

The Government, therefore, has a vested interest in ensuring that people who use the commodity pay for it. But so too do all law-abiding Jamaicans, especially residents in neighbourhoods where illegal connections to JPS lines affect the reliability of the supply and damage appliances and other equipment in households.

It is, as we said, a huge problem, but it is one that the country must tackle, and do so with firmness and fairness.

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