Thu | Oct 18, 2018

Massive debt to JPS - PAAC displeased about gov't paying bill for missing street lights

Published:Friday | March 16, 2018 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue/Senior Gleaner Writer

The vexed issue of the massive debt owed to the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) was on Wednesday discussed by Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) amid members expressing displeasure over the darkness of roads in their constituencies.

The PAAC, which was examining the Second Supplementary Estimates 2017-2018, heard that a total of $8.6 billion was owed to the company for street lights by the Ministry of Local Government and $800 million for supplying electricity to government-run schools by the Ministry of Education. The street light debt dates back several years, and some committee members bemoaned the fact that sections of their communities, and roads islandwide were without street lights.

The PAAC heard that despite the missing street lights, Government has been charged the same rate by the light and power company. Financial Secretary Darlene Morrison gave a breakdown of the debt by the two entities following a request from PAAC member Phillip Paulwell for a breakdown of the debt to the company.

"... With respect to the amounts owed to JPS, the $8 billion that is referenced there is actually a rounding. It's $7.8 billion to $7.9 billion, and it's specifically for street lighting. That is what is owed for street lighting by the local authorities. The other reference speaks to arrears owed by education facilities," Morrison said.

Committee member Mikhail Phillips asked how much was owed to the National Water Commission as the entity was strapped for cash and unable to do anything in the last two years.

The financial secretary was unable to provide the figure.

PAAC member Juliet Holness was not amused by the debt figures and the missing bulbs.

"I must add my voice to member (Phillip) Paulwell. We are paying for electricity bills at the same rate each year regardless of whether or not a 100 per cent of our street lights work or 50 per cent. We have one steady bill, it would appear, while still-substantial portions of the country remain in darkness. It would be very good for the Ministry of Finance in its discourse with the JPS to verify how soon they will be at a stage where we can start seeing declining bills and better service," she said to the committee. She said that rural roads continued to be neglected.