Sat | Apr 29, 2017

Missing link in solving power theft

Published:Tuesday | November 25, 2014 | 11:00 AMHugh Dunbar

This is an open letter to State Minister Julian Robinson.

As an architect, I was looking for an indication that you had included in your task force an architect and other professionals in the building industry who might have been useful in the discussions being held on the matter of electricity theft, incorporating their planning and housing expertise in your proposed solutions.

As a concerned member of the public who is unfairly having to pay costs associated with electricity theft and getting no benefit to my service or costs or opportunity to participate in the consultations to arrive at an equitable solution for me and my community, I would like to suggest that architects, urban planners and electrical engineering professionals be incorporated in the group to create achievable solutions to this problem.

The most important perspective of this situation is the physical form of the communities where the majority of occurrences take place. Most such homes mentioned in the pilot were once beautiful homes in viable, sustainable communities. They became squatter settlements because

of the economic necessity of many rural persons whose communities had died from lack of development.

The city houses were abandoned by the former owners for greener pastures elsewhere, uptown and overseas, or changing circumstances. The housing that exists now is tenement yards and is the only way persons with no reliable means of income can live. They comprise extended families and friends who come to stay for a while until they get a job.

In the meantime, people fall in love, get pregnant, have children, older people become infirm and are cared for by young family members or friends or other residents of the ‘yard’. So the ‘yard’ becomes home, a ramshackle, broken-down tangle of fences put together by the strongest inhabitant. Any visit to this yard would reveal a dangerous, archaic, dishevelled environment.

Such an environment cannot easily nurture hope and is easily a venue for criminality. Saying this by no means suggests that everyone within these situations is a criminal or has not gone on to achieve their full potential.

The present housing circumstances do not provide a safe or sustainable living environment for growing children or for nurturing any type of family unit. This type of housing cannot be the desired outcome for accommodating people who do not have the means to own or rent a home, or who may not have a job, or who may just be unemployable.

So on the face of it, your reasons for social input is good but not sufficient to create a desired long-term solution. There needs to be a development plan for sustainable housing in these communities.

Mr Minister, you have demonstrated less tendency to be political and more likeness to a person with a genuine desire to develop your constituency and understand your portfolio. Your job as member of parliament is important as is the role of minister of government. However, the job of minister should be the job of someone with experience in the field. To date, the Jamaican Constitution has not been revised to allow non-politicals to be placed in positions to manage our ministries critical to the successful running of the country. I don’t think any previous or present politician wants to remove this power from party control either.

So in the meantime, as a humble citizen, I am asking that you see the merits of creating a plan that both parties can accommodate and regulations that can coordinate it and laws that can enforce it.

This matter of electricity theft is only a symptom of malgovernance. Minister, I implore you to get a qualified professional team around you to define the solutions to the circumstances to which you now are trying to apply a Band-Aid. You can be the first since universal adult suffrage in 1944 to demonstrate what good governance is supposed to be.

n Hugh M. Dunbar is an architect. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and hmdenergy@gmail.com.