Tue | Apr 7, 2020

‘The OUR is useless!’ - Waterford councillor blasts regulatory body for not defending consumers

Published:Friday | February 21, 2020 | 12:33 AMRuddy Mathison/Gleaner Writer
Fenley Douglas.
Fenley Douglas.

The Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) was criticised by councillors attending Thursday’s general meeting of the St Catherine Municipal Corporation, who described the regulatory body as “useless”.

Councillor for the Waterford division in Portmore, Fenley Douglas, who led the charge in an emotional response to a presentation by Gordon Brown, public affairs director at the regulatory agency, said the organisation is inept, in the pockets of the utility companies and not representing the interest of the Jamaican utility consumer.

Douglas accused the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS), National Water Commission (NWC), and the telecommunications providers of treating the Jamaican people with impunity by placing exorbitant charges on them, while offering substandard services with the OUR turning a blind eye to their plight.

“I speak, Mr Chairman, as a consumer and the representive of many consumers in the Waterford division who are frustrated with the service delivery of our utility companies, and exorbitant charges laid on us for these services which are substandard.

“The smart street lights that are supposed to be their cutting-edge technology malfunction in a matter of weeks after they are installed. We were conned into ventilating to the people we represent, that no longer will these lights be out for any considerable period of time because the JPS could identify them and repair them quickly, but this has not been so,” Douglas charged.

“I represent a division that is crime-riddled and I have been asking for street lights in certain areas that have none for years, and nothing has been done, yet the municipal corporations pay JPS millions for street lights,” he continued.

“The JPS’s only aim is to collect and not connect with the people of Jamaica. We are told whenever we report outages that if it isn’t an emergency, it could take up to 36 hours before service is restored. To add to our frustration, Mister Chairman, is the fact that the persons manning the call centres have no knowledge of what they are doing, yet the OUR come to this meeting to tell us that they are working for us.”

Douglas argued that the JPS has no moral authority to seek electricity increases from the public when they failed to offer decrease charges when the price of oil dipped. He said this is an area where the OUR has dropped the ball.

The Waterford Municipal councillor also highlighted what he said is the unjust sewage charge imposed by the NWC on customers who are not connected to treatment plants serviced by the commission, as well as the lack of compensation by the telecommunication sector to customers when services are disrupted.

Meanwhile, public affairs coordinator at the OUR, Gordon Brown, in responding to the councillor’s broadside, said the regulatory agency can only operate within the ambit of the law.

“What I can say is that we operate under existing laws and we cannot function outside of the law. The telecommunication sector has laws that are outdated, hence we are restricted because of our reliance on these laws,” he stated.

“As far as the Water Commission is concerned, the existing law enables them to charge sewage rate if the property is within one hundred yards of the Water Commission facility,” Brown disclosed.

However, he did not say whether the OUR was responsible for regulating the issue of proximity to the NWC facility for customers who have their own backyard sewage pits, a situation that is of grave concern to councillors.