Mark Wignall | Politics and poaching utilities
It was one day in the late 1990s and I had stopped on the crest of the hill in sleepy Guy's Hill square. I was only seated on the bar stool for about three minutes and already I had secured the directions to the little village I travelled to in the late 1980s but couldn't quite recall its exact location.
I bought the two oldsters a half Q of white rum and headed for the village. The road had changed little, but I was amazed at the growth of the 'throw-ups' to the Jamaica Public Service (JPS) grid. They were there in the late 1980s, but the increase in the number indicated more housing construction and more people.
A friend who lives in Kingston grew up in the little village where the most exciting thing happening on a weekend is a rich reaping of cabbage or tomatoes. The concern which haunted my understanding of what it meant to be decent was the fact that I found just about every person among the small-farming community to be kind, courteous and churchgoing.
Yet, they were all stealing light. I sat by the sides of their kitchens and ate heartily and listened to their jokes. I simply did not have it in me to question the sincerity of these gracious people.
WHAT IS THE JPS TO DO?
The JPS tells us that about 180,000 households are stealing light. That's about a million people enjoying those 'tiefing' benefits. Of course, the JPS makes up for it by forcing higher rates on the remaining 300,000 or so households paying. What is the JPS to do?
The country has 63 members of parliament (MP). Can it be reasonably assumed that not a single MP is aware of this, the most prevalent of thefts islandwide? Of course not. So, the question is, what have they done about it?
Again, it is the late 1990s and I am in another rural hill community. I visit a family and they greet me in a big yard space. The house, the kitchen and a bigger-than-expected fowl coop constitute the three main structures. Right in the middle of a section of the yard is a hose constantly running water, which is channelled to the direction of the fowl coop.
"It come from up a di road," he says, indicating a main about 60 feet up the road. "Election time and di man dem gi wi pipe, union and tings. Seh wi fi fit it up. So, wi do it and nuhbody nuh bodder wi."
THE POWER OF THE POOR
Then there is the story of the resident of Harbour View. Before his father bought the Harbour View house, he owned a small one in Arnett Gardens in the early 1970s. One day, his father went to collect rent. The tenants were already chased out and in their place were armed thugs who told his father never to return.
The man wisely abandoned the property to the new politics. The father dies and the son lives in the Harbour View residence. Early 2000s, he is late with the NWC payment and his water is locked off for non-payment. Bill, $600.
But he also has the bill for the Arnett Gardens property. Over $3 million!
He pays the $600 plus reconnection fee. He shows the Arnett Gardens bill to the NWC cashier while telling her the story. "So, you lock off my Harbour View connection. How come yu don't lock off the one in Jungle?"
The young lady shook her head and feigned a smile. "Yuh know how that goes, Sir." Meaning, he plays by the rules. He gets shafted. The thugs who stole his legacy were given birth by the tribal politics which also gave them power and legitimacy. They break the rules and they consume $3 million worth of water, and counting.
My taxi driver friend who lives in Casava Piece explained it to me years ago. "Dem nuh have nuh money, dem can't pay. Dem have to tief, Missa Marks."
I really liked listening to his PNP diehard views, especially when he declared that it was also OK for JLP poor people to steal light.
"What about me?" I asked. "Would it be OK for me to steal some too?"
"No, Missa Marks, dat wrong. You can afford it."