Sun | Apr 30, 2017

OUR recovers $24 million from utilities, JPS to appeal $1b directive to repay

Published:Tuesday | February 24, 2015 | 2:00 AMChristopher Serju
Kelly Tomblin, president and CEO of the Jamaica Public Service Company.

Consumers received a total of just under $24 million in compensation from utility companies last year, thanks to the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR), whose Consumer Affairs Unit reported that $4 million of this amount was recouped during the October-December quarter.

"This latest figure brings to $23,666,071.13 the total amount compensated to customers by utility companies for the year 2014, with approximately 85 per cent going to JPS (Jamaica Public Service Company) customers and 15 per cent to NWC (National Water Commission) customers," OUR said in a statement yesterday. "While monies, in the form of credits, were secured for customers of Digicel and LIME, their share was less than one per cent."

The regulatory body went on to explain that the highest number of contacts in relation to perceived guaranteed standards breaches for JPS related to wrongful dismissal, while other alleged breaches most complained about were connection to supply, metering, and response to complaints.

In the case of NWC, most of the complaints had to do with alleged breaches related to metering and response to complaints.

"The reports from JPS and NWC on their performance on the guaranteed standards for the review period were not received at the time of compiling the quarterly report," the OUR further advised. "JPS has advised, however, that its ability to track and report on its compliance with the standards has been impaired by the process to upgrade its Customer Information System. However, no explanation has been proffered by the NWC for its delay in submitting the report."

AGENCY NOT EMPOWERED

Yesterday, Elizabeth Bennett Marsh, public education specialist at OUR, told The Gleaner that the regulatory agency was not empowered to pressure the utility companies to provide this information.

For the October to December 2014 quarter, reports to the Consumer Affairs Unit reached a high of 759, the highest for any quarter and representing a 12 per cent increase over the corresponding period for 2013. This was attributed to a significant increase in the number of complaints against telecommunications provider LIME, stemming primarily from its decision to introduce a charge for paper bills.

The company has since postponed implementation of this charge, in light of the general public outcry, even as it explained that the measure was designed to encourage consumers to go for the more environmentally friendly option of electronic billing.

The OUR said it was continuing its discussions with LIME regarding the validity and reasonableness of this proposed charge.

In the meantime, the JPS announced yesterday that it would be appealing a directive from the OUR to repay almost $1 billion in funds collected from customers in 2013 and paid over to Petrojam for fuel used to generate electricity.

"This appeal is not about JPS," said Kelly Tomblin, JPS president and CEO. "It's about ensuring that the company is in a position to lower costs sustainably over the long term and to continue improving service to our customers."

She added: "When the company is not able to recover legitimate business costs, it thwarts our ability to improve our operations, and achieve the fuel diversity that lowers cost and supports the nation's growth agenda."

The OUR, in the recent directive, instructed JPS to repay J$973 million it said represented amounts that were inappropriately included in charges for fuel supplied by Petrojam.

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com