By Scarlette Gillings, Contributor
WE HAVE read with interest articles which indicate the frustration of the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) with the issue of electricity theft.
The problem and its associated consequences remain a matter of grave national concern. We understand the company's plight, and the Government, through the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF), has been trying to address the problem.
The importance of regularising electricity to all citizens and the importance of access being safe and of a formal nature is an imperative of any government. The Government, having recognised the issues of safety and illegality with respect to the use of electricity in parts of Jamaica, has sought to include the regularisation of electricity in its social-intervention programmes. These have been complementary to the efforts of the JPS.
So far this year, illegal connections have amounted to US$32 million; legitimate JPS customers will pay the cost of 17 per cent of the recorded 25 per cent total system losses each year. Despite this picture of gloom, there are currently ongoing programmes that are making inroads into this problem, one being the electricity regularisation effort of the Inner City Basic Services Project (ICBSP) being implemented by JSIF.
IMPROVING ACCESS TO SERVICES
The ICBSP, which is funded by a loan from the World Bank to the GoJ, is aimed at improving access to basic services across 12 inner-city communities, and further to ensure the legitimacy of these services.
With funding of $8.3 million under ICBSP, 55 houses were wired and inspected, with 48 receiving GEI (Government Electrical Inspectorate) certification.
A survey done in October 2012 among the 48 households which participated in the electricity regularisation component of the programme showed that 68.8 per cent of households surveyed were regularised, having participated in the programme.
The households surveyed represented a range of sizes and types. Household sizes ranged from one to eight persons, with a mean of 3.6 persons per household and a median household size of three.
The total number of households that had electricity prior to the project could be as high as 47 (98 per cent). Kerosene was the next most common source of energy prior to the project, with eight households (17 per cent) using it as a main source of energy by itself or in conjunction with another main source.
Fifteen households (31 per cent of surveyed group) indicated that they had had their electricity service terminated for some reason prior to the project. Length of disconnection time ranged from three hours to two years.
Two-thirds of question respondents (42 per cent of all surveyed house-holds) stated that they found it hard to pay the household's electricity bills when the bills became due.
One respondent who found bill payment difficult explained that she was not working. Thirty per cent of question respondents (nine households) found bill payment manageable; only one respondent found bill payment easy. Almost two-thirds of question respondents (63 per cent of question respondents; 40 per cent of all surveyed households) stated that they were usually able to pay their entire monthly electricity bill when it became due. It was notable, however, that the majority of customers (57 per cent) find it hard to pay their electricity bill.
Some 65.5 five per cent of the respondents suggested that they received - post-regularisation - a monthly bill of $2,500; 31 per cent were in the middle range of $2,500-$5,000. Only one person had a bill of over $5,000.
Twenty-nine respondents said that they felt safer in their homes as a result of the service. Of the 30 survey respondents who answered the question regarding their overall satisfaction with the electrification project, 97 per cent reported that they were either satisfied or very satisfied.
The high satisfaction rating of the project (97 per cent) complemented by the high level of willingness to recommend electrification (93 per cent) as well as the recognition of safety gains from regularisation (56 per cent) will provide a buffer to the aforementioned risks.
Let us not be fooled, the success of the programme required significant investment in building social capital. A series of community engagement sessions and sensitisation efforts heightened the awareness of persons to the need for safe, reliable and formal electricity connections.
Electricity regularisation is a socio-economic issue that will require a range of strategies to achieve desired results. The success of the community of Bucknor is a small step, but a step in the right direction.
Scarlette Gillings is managing director of the Jamaica Social Investment Fund, a government agency.