Sat | Sep 22, 2018

Utility companies troubled by court delays for theft cases

Published:Thursday | August 2, 2018 | 12:00 AMBrian Walker/Gleaner Writer
Ansord Hewitt

The island's major utility companies are frustrated by the delays in the parish courts in dispensing with cases of theft and other illegal activities that negatively affect their operations. The entities have all asserted that theft, no matter how small, can have significant implications for service delivery and even the security of customers.

"In one of those cases where the gentleman was charged for criminal possession of property, on the very first day when he appeared in court, the prosecution said, 'Ready for trial'. That was four and a half years ago. It has still not been tried," said Anthony Barrows, group head of operations management at Digicel. He was addressing a special webinar on the impact of theft of utility services hosted by the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) on Monday.

Digicel has 15 matters pending before the courts for theft of fuel, copper, and batteries - the latter being a major asset, according to a senior executive. Barrows added that in addition to the delays, the company was unable to recover and reinstall the stolen equipment as the equipment was detained as exhibits for court cases.

Barrows explained, "When they keep stealing these batteries, the network simply cannot survive even a blip in the power supply. The cell site will simple go off. Calls will be dropped, and it starts all over again."

Burdened by court cases

The Jamaica Public Service (JPS) has also been burdened by court cases. With nine cases in court, the utility company is moving to strengthen its methods to divert matters from the justice system.

Rasheed Anderson, director of losses, operations, and analytics at the JPS, related: "... In 2016, the (legislation) was amended so that you are punishable by law of up to $5 million in fines and/or two years' imprisonment. Some may say, 'Wow! That is a big deterrent', but what we find is that in the last two years, we have seen the maximum fine for any individual being $1.6 million."

According to Ansord Hewitt, director general of the OUR, utility companies have been engaged and recommendations developed on measures to mitigate issues surrounding theft.

brian.walker@gleanerjm.com