Legislators reject JPS's proposal for special utility court
A JPS contractor disconnects an illegal line to the company's distribution grid in downtown Kingston.

JAMAICA Public Service's (JPS) proposal for a provision to be included in the Electricity Act allowing for dedicated court sessions to deal with matters pertaining to electricity theft, did not find favour with lawmakers reviewing the 2015 legislation.

In its submission to the joint select committee of Parliament reviewing the Act, JPS requested that a special utility court, or dedicated court sessions, or alternately a fast track channel within the court system, be specially dedicated to addressing the theft of service and/or infrastructure related to utilities and sufficiently resourced with prosecutors equipped to handle these types of offences.

However, at the committee's meeting on Tuesday, senior legal officer in the Ministry of Science, Energy, Telecommunications and Transport Kadene Campbell said there is no indication that the penalties under Section 58 of the Act "[are] not useful in terms of stymying the unlawful abstraction [of electricity]" and would thus warrant advocating for a special court.

"We believe the fine for unlawful abstraction is sufficient, so if it is that the incidents are brought to court, we believe that they would be addressed there. We have no information otherwise that there is any deficiency in that, and as such we cannot accept the proposal," she said.

According to Section 58 of the Electricity Act, any person who unlawfully abstracts, uses or consumes, diverts and causes to be diverted any electricity supply [by a supplier] commits an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction in a resident magistrate's court to a fine not exceeding $5 million, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or to both fine and imprisonment.

Opposition Senator Janice Allen agreed with the ministry's position, stating: "I fully agree," regarding the rejection of the proposal. There was also no objection from other committee members.

Meanwhile, committee members were more accommodating of another JPS proposal requesting the provision dealing with unauthorised use of electricity be broadened to include other aspects beyond illegal connection and theft of electricity.

The JPS wants this provision to also include theft of JPS infrastructure, equipment, material, plant and poles associated with the electricity grid and the supply of electricity, as well as receiving or being in possession of these stolen items.

"We have considered JPS's proposal and we think it's reasonable, having looked at other jurisdictions," Campbell said.

"We also thought that in relation to the unlawful use, abstraction or consumption of electricity, the offence could be extended to include tampering with meter or meter installation for registering the quantity of electricity supplied…The tampering would tie into unlawful abstraction use because it wouldn't record the correct usage," she added.

Voicing her agreement with the proposal, Senator Allen said: "I see nothing to object with here."

Alecia Smith

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