STEER TOWN, St Ann — Several Steer Town residents, who had illegally connected wires to the Jamaica Public Service (JPS) power lines, are maintaining that they had no choice but to the steal the electricity as many in the community are unemployed.
"We can't get no jobs. If you apply, as dem see yuh address dem nah hire you," complained Natesha Matthews, following an operation by JPS in the community yesterday to remove hundreds of illegal connections.
Matthews, who was close to tears as she spoke with the Jamaica Observer, said securing jobs was particularly a challenge for persons living in the "Gaza" section of Steer Town.
"The solution to the problem is to provide jobs. If we nuh get nuh jobs, then we will continue to t'ief light," another woman declared.
Several residents said the absence of electricity in several homes also provided an opportunity for criminals to invade.
"When we nuh have nuh light, criminal dem want fi come kill wi off," one woman said.
Yesterday's JPS team was led by St Ann Parish Manager Marvin Campbell and supported by a team of police officers.
It formed part of the light and power company's islandwide 'Take Back JPS' initiative, to clamp down on illegal electricity extraction, which cost the company US$30 million last year. Two persons were charged during the operation.
According to Campbell, approximately 50 per cent of the connections in Steer Town — which is made up of several informal settlements — are illegal.
He said the operation was intended get persons legally connected as well as to "promote safety".
"We are also engaging the customers; finding out what are some of their challenges, and encouraging them to come in so we can find a solution to allow them to become legal customers," he told the Observer.
"There is the financial implication; there is also the safety implication, so we are trying to address it from both ends," he said.
"It's a big safety concern, because a lot of times kids actually get electrocuted based on these supplies. Even persons who feel and think that they are the experts actually get killed as well. You also have the police personnel who go on operations at night; they themselves get entangled in the wires, so it's a safety hazard right across the board," Campbell explained, noting that the JPS team will be making follow-up visits to Steer Town and will be carrying out similar operations in other communities in the parish.
The company has so far this year removed thousands of illegal 'throw-ups' from several Corporate Area communities, including Majesty Gardens, Waterhouse and Olympic Gardens.
Last year, JPS crews removed 98,000 illegal lines from the company's infrastructure. Sixty-two persons were arrested and charged for the illegal abstraction of electricity or for trespassing on the works of JPS.