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CURE likens court ruling on JPS monopoly to emancipation

BY PAUL HENRY Crime/Court co-ordinator henryp@jamaicoabserver.com

Friday, August 03, 2012    

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MEMBERS of the group Citizens United to Reduce Electricity Rates (CURE), who succeeded in having the High Court strike down the exclusive nature of the Jamaica Public Service's (JPS) all-island licence, have described the ruling as an "emancipation" of the Jamaican people and an opportunity for the authority to act in the best interest of energy consumers.

"On the eve of emancipation, the Jamaican people have been emancipated, really," said founding member Betty Ann Blaine, during a press conference at the law offices Taylor Wright and Company in Kingston on Tuesday. She was referring to Jamaica's celebration of Emancipation Day on Wednesday.

"We are all happy and Jamaican should feel proud and very happy. This is also a psychological victory. This is sending a message to the Jamaican people that you can take on the system and win; you can take on the big people and win. This is really sending the message to Jamaicans that you can make wrong right and you must stand up for what you believe in and you must fight for what you believe in," added Blaine.

Dickie Crawford, another claimant, praised the ruling.

"...We have created a historic precedent in breaking corporate monopoly in Jamaica, which have been unthinkable in all these years. To me, this historic ruling in this court is really a new day in Jamaica. We now have the opportunity, the door is wide open at the best possible time for Jamaica to develop a brand new energy industry," said Crawford.

On Monday, Justice Bryan Sykes ruled that the exclusive aspect of the 20-year exclusive all-island licence issued by the Government in 2001 was invalid. The ruling means that other players can now seek entry the energy market.

But in a release, the JPS said that it was disappointed with the ruling.

"What this means is that JPS' shareholders bought an exclusive licence from the Government of Jamaica that has been found to be invalid. Also, we are not sure how this impacts our obligation to serve. We are, therefore, reviewing the ruling to determine the full implications. In the meantime, we will continue to focus on meeting the needs of our customers during this important time in Jamaica's history," she said.

However, energy minister Phillip Paulwell welcomed the ruling, saying in an interview on Nationwide 90 FM that it will serve to bolsters his push to have the national electricity grid liberalised.

Paulwell, was speaking from South Korea, where he is participating in talks on how the grid could best be liberalised in a bid to promote competition and reduce electricity cost.

Tuesday, Hugh Wildman, attorney for the claimants, said that if the JPS decides to go ahead with its appeal, his clients will file a counter appeal asking the court to declare that the JPS does not have a licence.

"Once it is conceded that the exclusive nature of the licence is illegal [as Sykes did] then you are actually saying that the JPS currently has an illegal licence because the licence they have is an exclusive one and cannot be severed," he explained.

He said if the Court of Appeal holds that the JPS does not have a licence it could order the light and power company to return the profits made over the years to consumers.

Meanwhile, former Jamaica Labour Party Government Senator Dennis Meadows, another founding member of CURE, said the country should focus on constitutional reform as the JPS licence is "a product of Government".

"Any constitutional arrangement that allows a minister to almost unilaterally grant an exclusive licence contrary to law needs urgent reformation," he said.

CAPTIONS:

BLAINE... this is sending a message to the Jamaican people that you can take on the system and win

CRAWFORD... we have created a historic precedent in breaking corporate monopoly

WILDMAN... if JPS decides to go ahead with its appeal, we will file a counter appeal

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