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JPS too 'tief'... Say people who vow to continue illegal practice

Residents: Tief from tief God laugh, JPS tricking us

BY HG HELPS AND KARYL WALKER

Sunday, May 18, 2014    

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CITIZENS numbered among the over 200,000 whom the Jamaica Public Service Company said often steal electricity, have, among other things, pointed the finger of blame on the electricity provider, going as far as calling the organisation a thieving one.

The Jamaica Observer, in interviews with mainly inner-city folk, was given various reasons regarding why they stole the commodity.

While the cry of not having the financial resources to pay often hefty power bills surfaced frequently in the discourse, the element of taking revenge on the JPSCo also popped up regularly, with some insisting that there is often too much powerplay by the utility company in sending out "inflated and unreasonable" bills.

"We tief from JPS because them too tief as a company, and tief from tief, God laugh," said one resident of a Western St Andrew community repeating an age-old Jamaican saying.

"We get regularised already and JPS tell us that we will get the first month free. But that's a lie, a trap, because after that they start sending $10,000 bill, then it start move up to $15,000 and the next ones after that gone into the $20,000 region.

"We don't have no washing machine, it's just two fan, one TV set, a small office fridge and light we use, so how come the bill reach $20,000 inna three months ... how come?" stated the resident whose family has again gone the illegal route.

Similar sentiments were expressed by another member of the community, who insisted that the JPSCo had often tricked people into regularising their accounts, only to hike electricity rates without justification.

"They just lure you into a trap. We don't want fi tief light, but we cyaa do better, because we did go the proper route before and everything start out well and all of a sudden, everything just start go up.

"JPS find every way fi tek back from you. So even if you want to go legal, they force you not to by padding your bill. They really need competition," said the resident,who, like others, declined to be photographed, and asked that his name be kept private.

The JPSCo has warned that it will be going all-out to chase energy thieves off the grid, but some insist that they will continue to fight the company's efforts.

The Sunday Observer also spoke to people who have never paid for electricity all their lives and have no intention of doing so, no matter how the JPSCo rants and raves.

Delving into financial reasons, one resident of another community said that the cost of 'light' was too high and on his minimum wage it was way above his pay range.

"Me a small man who cut yard for a living. Me can't find the 10 and 15 thousand dollar what me hear some people whose yard me cut a bawl say them have to pay," the man said dryly.

When asked if he realised that other hard-working persons who were earning small wages had to pay for what he was using, the man remained indifferent.

"That a no my business. Me haffi get light and me nah pay. How it going look if me alone in the whole area start pay? The people dem a go look pan me a way," he said.

The Sunday Observer then informed him that JPS was thinking of charging people who cannot afford to pay a smaller rate, as long as they consumed under a certain amount of kilowatt hours.

He stared blankly and made no reply.

Ironically the man who claimed to be a 'small man' had a 32-inch flat screen television, a large refrigerator and a component set blasting in his humble abode.

JPS head Kelly Tomblin, at a press conference last week, bemoaned the fact that some 200,000 people were refusing to pay for electricity and that JPS had been bleeding red to the tune of US$73 million in the last two years.

Illegal users, she said, consumed three times more energy than legitimate customers and if they were not brought to book, then the company may have to shut down its operations.

But Tomblin's and her senior Vice-President Gary Barrow's protestations seemed to fall on deaf ears.

One woman, who lives in one of the South St Andrew communities which the company cut supply to last week because of a high incidence of theft, took a different view.

The woman said that she was willing to start paying but was afraid that she would be billed for all the electricity she had stolen over the years.

"God know, me will pay a little thing but me 'fraid say when me go and talk to them, them going want charge whole heap a money. Me have my girls at home and me don't want to live in darkness. When summer night get hot me want bun my little fan, so me will pay, but me 'fraid," she said.

Another man lives in one of the inner-city housing projects located off Spanish Town Road, an area notorious for high crime and electricity theft.

He however said that he has never missed a payment and felt hard done by the action that the JPSCo took when the power to his community was cut on a wholesale basis.

"I pay my bill every month. They should never do me that. I agree that some people, all when them have them pocket full of money, not paying because them a born thief, but JPS must find a way to punish them and not me who always pay on time. It just not fair," he said.

The man explained that during the power cut persons still found a method of stealing electricity and he could hear a stereo blasting away while he had to bear the searing heat.

Tomblin also pointed out during the press conference that persons who steal energy do not try to conserve and will leave their lights and radios on even when they are not using them.

This was confirmed by the disgruntled man.

"Look, I work hard and pay taxes and still pay GCT. The children have to go to school and them have to eat. I make sure I change out the bulb them and plug out all charger and television and radio when me leaving my house. Some people who a steal light, them don't business, them burn light straight," he said.

Tomblin has indicated that her company will be lobbying the Government to impose harsher penalties -- including jail time, for those persons who are caught illegally abstracting electricity -- as

a deterrent.

But even that did not shake one woman from the South West St Andrew community of Greenwich Town.

"Me wi continue fi tek me chance. Me caan pay them bill wey me see JPS a sen out to other people, because the little pay that me get fi do domestic work, sometimes me no even get the amount that me hear say JPS send them fi light bill," the mother of four said.

While those stealing electricity continue the practise with disdain, JPSCo crews, accompanied by police personnel, have stepped up their offensive against law breakers and are also concentrating their efforts in communities outside of Kingston and St Andrew.

On Friday, an enforcement team took down power lines in the South St James community of Montpelier and arrested one woman for stealing electricity.

Similar operations are being planned for other rural communities, but the brunt of the effort remains the Corporate Area, which, according to officials of the light and power company, amounts to close to 70 per cent of electricity theft.

JPSCo officials too, the Sunday Observer uwas told, are also vigorously probing claims that members of affluent middle- and upper-class communities in Kingston & St Andrew, and the western city of Montego Bay have been stealing electricity far more discreetly than inner-city residents have been.

The microscope too, will be placed on business operators in some communities, who are being accused of using electricity for free to run their various economic operations.

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