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Telecoms firms urge toughers sanctions for copper cable theft

Published:Wednesday | December 24, 2014 | 12:00 AM

LIME Jamaica is suggesting it is time to hit back after being plagued by copper cable thieves for more than a decade.

Elon Parkinson, corporate communications manager at the telecommunications firm, said tougher penalties might be the answer to deter those who steal copper wire as LIME and other service providers have had to contend with spending millions to replace and repair equipment that has been targeted by criminals.

"Currently under the law, those charged with theft of our cables are charged with simple larceny. I think there needs to be a toughening up of the legislation," Parkinson told The Gleaner late last week, days before yesterday's theft of more than 400 metres of cable in Hellshire, St Catherine.

"When persons steal these cables, they are not only running away with cables, they are also messing with the national security of the country."

Sean Latty, managing director of Columbus Communications, operator of Flow, said his company was also feeling the pinch on its bottom line when vandals target their wires and other equipment.

This year, Flow, whose parent company is in the process of being purchased by LIME, has had to spend more than $20 million on repairs.

Latty is also pushing for stronger penalties, stating that there needs to be a more appropriate deterrent for persons who engage in stealing essential company infrastructure.

"Vandals will not stop unless the punishment for the crime becomes greater than its rewards," he asserted.

Under the Larceny Act, there is a maximum sentence of three years in prison for those convicted of simple larceny.

Earlier this year, Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce Anthony Hylton announced sweeping changes designed to quash illegal scrap metal trade activities. One of those changes was establishing steep fines for those exporters who knowingly accept stolen metal.

However, no changes were made to increase the penalty for those who remove the infrastructure.

Julian Robinson, state minister in the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, said amendments could be made to the Larceny Act to increase penalties for those who carry out acts of copper wire theft.

"The ministry is proposing amendments to the Electricity Act to increase the penalties for those who steal electricity," Robinson said.

"I think similar amendments can be made to the Larceny Act to stiffen the penalties so there is more of a deterrent."

When contacted, Digicel, another major player in the local telecommunications industry, promised to provide a response on the matter. However, up to press time, that response was not forthcoming.

richard.mitchell@gleanerjm.com

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