MONTEGO BAY, St James — FACED with revenue losses amounting to more than US$24 million in western Jamaica last year, due to electricity theft, the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) Region West yesterday launched a massive anti-theft campaign in targeted St James communities. The drive is expected to spread across other western parishes soon.
Yesterday's operation commenced in the Hart Street section of the city where a number of the JPS's technical staff, who were accompanied by members of the security forces, swooped down on several premises in a bid to unearth illegal connections and instances of meter tampering.
During the drive in the densely populated Hart Street area a total of seven meters were removed and 10 illegal service wires disconnected.
The team then rolled into the nearby Railway Lane where they removed five meters and 23 illegal connections.
JPS Region West, which encompasses the parishes of St Ann, Trelawny, St James, Hanover and Westmoreland, reportedly recorded approximately 20 per cent in lost revenue during 2012, which amounts to roughly US$2 million per month in losses for the company.
The anti-electricity theft drive forms part of the light and power company's islandwide campaign dubbed "Take Back JPS", geared towards mitigating revenue losses.
"So we are on a campaign where we are going to be taking back our business. But it is not that we are taking back JPS, we are taking back Jamaica, too. While we are taking back JPS and Jamaica, legitimate businesses can compete with other businesses who are stealing from us," JPS' Western Regional Director Blaine Jarrett told the Observer West.
He noted that based on data collected by JPS personnel, a number of communities have been identified as having a heavy concentration of electricity theft. These areas, Jarrett said, will be among the first to be tackled during the anti-theft drive, even as opportunities will be extended to illegal electricity users to make arrangements to settle outstanding payments.
"We have identified certain areas where we need to attack first, so we will be sending a strong signal, but the important thing is that we are saying to our customers, if you know that you are stealing, come in and talk to us," Jarrett explained.
According to T'Shura Gibbs, JPS parish manager for St James, over 50 per cent of customers who were disconnected for non-payment of bills, mostly in Montego Bay, between October last year and the middle of this month, have failed to come in and settle.
"Those customers who were disconnected have not come back on the grid but they have electricity and they don't have generators; they haven't got solar systems. It says that something is wrong and we are going out there and we are taking back our company and we are very serious about it," rued Gibbs.
"Persons are going to get arrested — it is not what we want, but it is what we have to resort to take back this company and deal with this crime of electricity theft because it is a crime and people don't see it as a crime."
Meanwhile, head of the Police Area One, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Devon Watkis has signalled the police's intention to get tough on those persons illegally extracting electricity from the light and power company.
"We are in discussion with JPS, to help them with their mandate. The police has a role to protect our investing stakeholders. We want to encourage the law-abiding citizens who may at this time be in arrears, to go in, speak to JPS because if they are caught stealing electricity we will be prepared to implement the law," ACP Watkis warned.
Meanwhile, the JPSCo's western regional director expressed that electricity thieves run right across the social spectrum.
"Just about every sector one can think of — commercial, residential, industrial — there is no sector within our business that is not stealing," Jarrett disclosed.
He said a myriad of methods are employed to illegally extract current from the power suppliers.
"Apart from direct connection, people tamper with our meters — not just our meters but people tamper with our method of collecting data. Generally we call it bypassing the meter," he explained.
Jarrett revealed that electricity theft is so widespread islandwide that in 2011 the company was forced to spend about US$30 million "specifically in the fight against losses" and a further US$17million in 2012.
"In fact, two years ago the company established an entire division just to fight losses. Which other company, which other business establishes a security division which engages a significant amount of their staff towards managing theft,?" he asked.
"We are not a security company; we are a utility company and our mandate as a utility company is to provide a reliable supply to our customers so that that our shareholders can have a reasonable return."