Sat | Dec 10, 2016

Help the willing, JPS

Published:Monday | March 30, 2015 | 12:00 AM

I saw an elderly patient who related her disturbing tale of woe to me. She lives in a community where the Jamaica Public Service (JPS) Company Limited is attempting to 'regularise' its customers.

Stealing electricity is rampant, and it costs the JPS and paying customers millions of dollars annually. Some areas are so bad that the JPS employed the Residential Automated Metering Infrastructure (RAMI) system to remotely read, connect or disconnect the meters.

The elderly patient explained that JPS removed all the illegal connections and even those that were honest customers. She said that she has been seeking to get regularised for about one year now. She claimed that she has been receiving monthly estimated bills, even though she is disconnected. She asserts that she has paid the requisite fees to become regularised and that she has been visiting the JPS office repeatedly, to no avail.

The JPS rules state that in order to become regularised, owners must submit titles for their properties, and tenants must submit copies of the titles where they live along with a letter of authorisation from the owners. Although my elderly patient has a title for her premises, never stole electricity, and has done all that is required to become regularised, she believes that she remains in the dark because others around her are unable to comply.

 

squatters

 

In such areas, requiring titles for properties prior to regularisation is often unreasonable and impossible to achieve. Thanks to poor government monitoring and 'politics', many residents in depressed areas are squatters. In fact, there are generations of squatters who cannot produce a title for anything.

There are others who have occupied properties once owned by their relatives. They have lived there undisturbed for years. They have no titles although, if they could go through the proper legal channels, they could legally acquire the land. However, such a pathway is tortuous, expensive and lengthy. Then there will be the matter of accumulated land taxes for them to deal with. In other words, even those who could claim legal right to properties will probably not have the wherewithal to acquire a title in order to get regularised.

Many people existing in this reality will always steal electricity. This will only serve to institutionalise thievery. Currently, some who want to become regularised but cannot are risking their lives to steal electricity by using flimsy wires to connect to nearby high-powered lines. Neighbours are complicit because those with illegal connections help others by storing perishable food items - baby's milk, medications, and ice for cold drinks on hot days and nights.

And so, some residents currently throw up illegal connections during the night and remove them at dawn because the stealing of electricity has been rationalised as a modern-day necessity for some poor people. The inculcation of such illegal behaviour does not bode well for our society. It opens the door to rationalising stealing in general and facilitates other criminal acts under the umbrella of survival. Generations of people from several communities are being groomed in ways counterproductive and dangerous to our society.

 

obvious dangers and risks

 

Aside from the obvious danger of illegally connecting to high-powered electricity lines, the electrified wires on the ground sometimes shock innocent adults and children. And the use of illegal connections with small wires to power household appliances creates fire hazards. Additionally, the use of kerosene lamps and candles also acts as a significant risk for fires, destruction and multiple deaths.

Children cannot study well under those circumstances, the elderly risk injuries from falls; foods and medications spoil, nutrition suffers, and multiple hazards threaten everyone.

Lawbreakers move under the cover of darkness and crime becomes a serious problem. Situations like that enhance the vicious cycle of poverty and disempowerment, then it leaches out from problem communities into the entire society.

I hope that the JPS will find a way to adjust its rules for a humane and practical solution for communities where electricity theft is widespread.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.