Sat | Jan 16, 2021

$26-BILLION POWER GRAB - Electricity thieves plunder JPS

Published:Tuesday | December 8, 2020 | 12:16 AM
 Rosalind Smith, resident of Riverton Meadows, says she suffers from outages despite paying her electricity bill.
Rosalind Smith, resident of Riverton Meadows, says she suffers from outages despite paying her electricity bill.
Paul Margon, a resident of Riverton Meadows, discusses the community's power problems while washing his bus on Monday.
Paul Margon, a resident of Riverton Meadows, discusses the community's power problems while washing his bus on Monday.
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Despite aggressive disconnection drives and a vigorous campaign to leverage moral suasion, Jamaica’s electricity distributor has revealed that power theft for all of 2019 was billed at US$178 million. That amounts to J$26 billion at today’s rate.

The disclosure was made in response to queries by The Gleaner on Monday after the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) said that more than 90 per cent of households in Riverton City, a largely poor community in the St Andrew Western constituency, stole power.

Riverton alone draws about US$2.2 million illegally per year, with the abstraction bill for 2020 put at US$2.04 million as at the end of November.

JPS blamed electricity thieves for several outages in the community, with only 160 legal customers among more than 1,000 households.

“The company has also noted with alarm that the consumption pattern of non-paying users is at excessive levels – over 600 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per day – more than 100 times the average paying customer,” JPS said in a media statement early yesterday.

Riverton represents just over one per cent of JPS’s massive power theft.

JPS told The Gleaner that it had sought to extend its liaison initiative with residents to encourage compliance, but those efforts appear to have foundered. The company said it was in direct discussions with Member of Parliament Anthony Hylton.

Attempts to contact Hylton on Monday were unsuccessful, as calls to his mobile phone went unanswered.

The light and power supplier has extended the olive branch to urban communities with high rates of electricity theft, winning the war of attrition in areas such as Majesty Gardens where its formal customer base moved from fewer than 11 customers to more than 700 in four years.

But Riverton City, where the country’s largest dump is located, has proven to have nagging resistance to JPS’s attempts to pull the plug on power thieves, despite at least five major disconnection drives in 2020 and approximately 4,500 throw-ups removed.

The toll of electricity loss nationally has been estimated at US$160m up to the end of November this year, JPS said in an emailed response late Monday.

The consequences for legal customers have been heavy, with frequent disruptions making routine tasks and ways of life a torment.

Riverton Meadows resident Paul Morgan has said he is tired of having to store all his meat in his sister-in-law’s freezer in Pembroke Hall, St Andrew, because of frequent disconnections by the JPS.

But Morgan is perturbed that even when he pays his monthly bill on time, he has had to suffer as a victim of collateral damage in the clampdowns by the company. His bill is around $10,000 monthly.

“If me a pay and the next man naw pay, me nuh response fi di next man. Me pay my own. Me supposed to have light because when light bill come, mi affi pay it,” he told The Gleaner.

“You have people will borrow the light, yes. Mi naw go seh nobody nuh borrow light. Time gone by, when JPS come in, people affi a run and tek dung wire.”

Morgan claimed that while some residents have regularised their service, others were haunted by backlogs.

Rosalind Smith said, too, that the good have been suffering for the bad.

Her son, who is visiting from overseas, has had to leave the community because of his frustration with the lack of electricity.

“Majority of the people on the stretch have straight light. A just one and two maybe (bridge)m,” Smith told The Gleaner.

“Di people dem weh dem seh a bridge, me nuh really know because me always deh a work.”

editorial@gleanerjm.com