Joint committee set up to address electricity theft
A committee led by junior energy minister, Julian Robinson has been set up address the high rate of electricity theft, which led to the Jamaica Public Service (JPS) shutting off power in several communities earlier this week.
The joint committee, which includes personnel from Government and JPS, was convened yesterday after representatives of the light and power company met with Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and other members of her Cabinet. The light and power company was summoned to a meeting to defend its decision to interrupt service to communities in which it is experiencing up to 70 per cent electricity theft.
The decision to set up the committee came a day after the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) ordered JPS to immediately halt the practice of punishing paying customers in these communities. The affected areas were Jones Town, Seaward Drive, Trench Town, Denham Town, Rema, Maxfield Avenue, Central Village, and Spanish Town Road.
A media release issued by Jamaica House, following the meeting, stated that the prime minister made it clear that the Government does not support the theft of electricity, but that JPS had to find a way to deal with the matter of illegal connections without punishing customers who are paying for the service.
"Legitimate customers cannot be forced to suffer for those who break the law," the prime minister reportedly told the JPS executives at the meeting.
Jamaica House said JPS, for its part, expressed regret at not having dialogue with the Government prior to its decision to shut off power to the affected communities and also apologised to its paying customers who were affected by the action.
In a May 11 news release, JPS said, as part of continuing efforts to reduce the impact of electricity theft on its operations, it would be cutting the number of hours that power is provided to the identified Corporate Area communities as part of efforts to get more people to pay for the electricity they use. According to JPS, it would be making an effort to provide electricity for not less than 12 hours per day
However, the OUR's directive to JPS, which was released to the media, noted that the company's action amounted to breaches of the license as well as the terms and conditions of the service.
"The office holds the position that in the instant case JPS does not have the right to disconnect its customers pursuant to section 3 of the Public Utilities Protection Act," the OUR directive stated.
The directive pointed to sections of the Amended and Restated All-Island Electric Licence of 2011, which provides that the licensee (JPS) "shall not show any undue preference to or unduly discriminate against any person or class of persons as respects the sale or purchase of electricity or opportunity or access to the same."
It further pointed to the circumstances under which JPS can discontinue service. This includes non-payment of bills on due date; refusal or failure to make or increase when requested; when the company has reasonable evidence that the consumer has been previously disconnected for non-payment and is receiving service under a different name to avoid past due payments; due to a dangerous condition on the consumer's premises in wiring or energy consuming devices; because of a fraudulent use of the service or tampering with the company's equipment; for any other violation of its terms and conditions which the consumer refuses or neglects to correct within 10 days of a notice in writing from the company and on request of the consumer.
The OUR further noted that it is empowered to regulate electricity services and on its own initiative or at the request of any person to carry out such investigations in relation to the provision of electricity services as will enable it to determine whether the interests of the consumer are adequately protected.
According to the directive, failure by JPS to have ceased and desisted from this action would have rendered the company liable