Fri | Sep 21, 2018

Editorial | The price society pays

Published:Saturday | August 4, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Utility companies reminded us this week how notoriously difficult it is to do business in Jamaica by explaining the high levels of theft they face every day. At a webinar hosted by the Office of Utilities Regulation in Kingston earlier this week, representatives of the major utility companies lamented the impact theft of service, cables, generators and fuel was having on their operations.

Theft of water and electricity has been ongoing for decades and is a worldwide phenomenon. Even though it has been trending down because of the companies' vigilance and introduction of smart meters, it remains high. Then there is the wanton theft and vandalism of cables and batteries used by the utility companies. It is alleged that these are sold as scrap metal.

Even with the daunting bureaucracy and credit issues that Jamaican businesses face, it appears that their greatest challenge is in the area of security.

At a time when the Government is seeking to unlock the country's vast economic potential the rhetoric of growth is rather shrill in the face of these enormous challenges. We have no doubt that this crime monster has dented Jamaica's appeal as an ideal place to do business. This could also have a direct bearing on Jamaica's 70th-place ranking on the 2017 Ease of Doing Business index, which studies 190 economies of the world based on regulatory environment and protection of property rights.

Corporations, small and large, grapple with criminal activity, including extortion, theft and pilferage, fraud and corruption. If a business is forced to invest in security systems, such as cameras, alarms and security guards, to protect its stocks and assets, then the cost of its operations must increase. Revenue loss due to criminal activity will necessarily lead to a hike in price to seek to recover. Sadly, it is the legitimate customer who bears the burden of this theft.

Is it any wonder that water shortage and power cuts and load shedding continue to be features of Jamaican life? So much of the companies' efforts and resources are tied up with detecting, curtailing and prosecuting thieves, and this must take away from the kind of focused forward-planning and grid improvements that are needed to keep pace with the technology of making their systems more efficient. It must have a bearing on the quality of the service offered to genuine customers.

 

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If the shock video of a small boy being torched by illegal electricity does not send a powerful message to electricity thieves of the deadly risks they face, it means that the practice may be around for a very long time. When a utility is illegally used, it could also result in other hazards such as fire and property damage. The irony is that those who do not pay for electricity, for example, tend to pay little regard to wastage.

Up to now our politicians have not treated utilities theft as an economic issue. The theft of utilities has a major impact on the economy and life in general. It is the society that has to fund this activity in the form of higher bills and whatever other negative consequences that may arise. All communities have a vested interest in protecting their properties from the negative impact of utility theft. For example, an entire community's communication can be cut off if cables are stolen from one of the telecommunications network providers. Communities need to wake up to the dangers that are lurking. Cheaters need to be reported.