Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer
The National Water Commission's (NWC) mantra is 'We would rather collect than disconnect', but in more than 100 communities across the island, the state entity appears neither able to collect nor disconnect for the more than $3.5 billion it is owed.
Labelling these communities 'red areas', the NWC teams are locked out by blatant criminality and other ills.
Weeks before it asks the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) to allow it to charge paying customers more, the NWC has confirmed that more than a million residents in inner-city communities islandwide are using the water it supplies without paying.
The NWC has argued that it needs a tariff increase as the rates it charges Jamaicans for potable water is relatively low and its last price hike was in 2008.
With a customer base of just over 400,000, the NWC said the figure is a fraction of the number of persons who actually benefit on a daily basis.
Responding to questions from The Sunday Gleaner, the NWC said the $3.5 billion is owed by individuals in 102 red areas across the island as at November 30, 2012.
The company said although it "bills, and continues to bill individual premises for water consumed", it is only able to collect between five and 15 per cent of the total bills from these red areas.
GREAT DEBT IN CORPORATE AREA
Several of the red areas are in Kingston and St Andrew, with non-paying residents in six communities owing a combined $1.143 billion - a debt which continues to grow every year.
Heading the list is Seaview Gardens, a community in the constituency of St Andrew Western, where persons using water provided by the NWC owe $372 million. That is a bill which has grown from $45 million in 1997.
The constituency has voted for the ruling People's National Party (PNP) in the last six general elections. Its current member of parliament (MP) is the PNP's deputy chairman, and the minister of industry, investment and commerce, Anthony Hylton.
The community is also among those listed as the largest users of electricity stolen from the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS).
Water thieves in Tivoli Gardens, a community in the constituency of Kingston Western which has voted for the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) since 1962, owe the NWC $270 million.
Residents in Denham Town, another community in the constituency of Kingston Western, owe the NWC $227 million.
The constituency has been represented by two former JLP leaders in Edward Seaga and Bruce Golding. The current MP is Desmond McKenzie, the former mayor of Kingston.
Residents in three communities in the constituency of St Andrew South, which is represented by the PNP's Dr Omar Davies, owe a combined $274 million.
In Jones Town, the residents owe the NWC $152 million, while over in the neighbouring Arnett Gardens, residents owe $66 million.
In the neighbouring Trench Town, the residents owe $56 million.
WORKING ON STRATEGIES
According to the NWC, it is prepared to go after these persons and others who owe it billions more.
"We are actually owed some $15 billion from all the sectors - not just the $3.5 billion owed by the residents in these inner-city communities," NWC Vice-President David Geddes told The Sunday Gleaner.
"We are trying to collect from all our debtors and we are devising strategies to collect," added Geddes.
He said the NWC's Legal Affairs Division and its Customer Service Delivery Division are spearheading the drive to collect the outstanding amounts.
"We are using demand letters, we are looking at the legal process, which could involve seizing and auctioning properties, and we are looking at instances where the Government might be liable for the debt as persons could be living on state-owned properties," said Geddes.
"Reducing the entire debt portfolio is a priority."
The Sunday Gleaner also understands that the NWC has also made MPs aware of the level of indebtedness by residents in their constituencies in an effort to get the political representatives to help the company to clear the arrears, but this was not confirmed by Geddes.
While the NWC has just over 400,000 registered accounts, it supplies about two million persons across the island.
The cheats steal water mainly by making illegal connections to the NWC mains. However, in some instances, they steal from public entities such as schools and hospitals.