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Water thieves on the loose

NWC suffering, as 68% of commodity produced is stolen

BY KARYL WALKER Editor — Crime/Court Desk walkerk@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, August 24, 2014    

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IN the midst of a national drought that has seen the supply of water to consumers drop considerably, the National Water Commission (NWC) continues to feel the effects of water thieves.

Speaking at the Jamaica Observer's Press Club on Thursday, President of the NWC Kingsley Thomas said that 68 per cent of the potable water that is produced by the organisation is stolen by unscrupulous persons.

"Sixty-eight per cent of the water we produce we don't collect anything for. No business can survive on that basis," Thomas said.

The commission produces a total of 170 million gallons of water daily and the Corporate Area alone accounts for 60 million gallons per day.

Thomas said that the NWC was not prepared to sit back and bleed red and allow unscrupulous persons to continue stealing water.

The burden he said should not be placed on the 25 per cent minority who pay for the vital service.

"That is something we plan to address seriously. We plan to reduce the amount of non-revenue water. If we reduce it by half in the next two to three years the NWC will be making $10 billion a year. It is a no-brainer for us to continue turning a blind eye," he said.

Water theft is widespread and is not only confined to depressed, garrison communities but is perpetrated by upper-class citizens and big businesses as well.

At present the Commission is investigating the theft of water by a powerful engineering company that has built underground tanks and pilfered water used in the construction of a major multimillion-dollar project.

Water is also stolen through illegal connections to the Yallahs pipeline and is also widespread in inner-city communities.

"The situation is not pretty. It is a crisis. Illegal connections are not limited to poor people. This is not a phenomenon that is confined to the less fortunate in society. There is significant intrusion in the Yallahs pipeline. It is a societal problem," Thomas said.

The commission's coffers are being significantly drained by other devious thieves who connect illegally to its mains and in turn sell water to other persons in their community.

He displayed a set of photographs that were taken in an inner-city community that showed a network of illegal Poly Vinyl Chloride (PVC) pipes that had been disconnected by the NWC in an inner-city community.

One of the pipes was noticeably bigger.

"The big pipes is the don's," he said.

Persons also steal water even after the NWC had disconnected their supply by destroying their property.

The commission also faces the problem of owners of water trucks who open fire hydrants and fill their trucks and sell water to people in short supply of the vital liquid.

NWC's regional manager for western Jamaica and acting Vice-President Richard Meggoo said that the breaching of fire hydrants compromised the work of the Jamaica Fire Brigade.

Persons who truck water must purchase it from the NWC and are given receipts.

"Nobody wants to report it. The police should be stopping water trucks and ask them for their proof of purchase. They should be locked up," Meggoo said.

He also bemoaned the fact that there is little or no deterrent for persons who get caught stealing water as the punishment is paltry.

He advocated for the legislation to be amended to give judges greater powers to slap persons with heavy fines for trespassing on the works of the NWC.

"The fines are not punitive enough. It doesn't compare to the fines that are charged for stealing electricity," he said.

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