Dark days for JPS - Creditors jittery but company vows no let-up on war against thieves
Kelly Tomblin, president and chief executive officer of the Jamaica Public Service (JPS), has signalled that dark days loom for the light and power company if approximately 200,000 electricity thieves are allowed to continue their rampage.
Tomblin told journalists at a press conference yesterday that the company's creditors are warily observing the situation in Jamaica.
She warned that while she was not inclined to indulge in 'scaremongering', the JPS could be abandoned in the event of continued haemorrhaging of the company's resources should there be no end in sight to the thievery.
Accordingly, Tomblin said the JPS was pushing for electricity thieves to be banished behind prison walls instead of being rapped with meagre fines that have rendered the scourge commonplace.
She said the JPS spends $30 million annually to combat the scourge to little or no effect.
"There must be a way to isolate non-paying customers from the paying customers ... the eradication of electricity theft could reduce electricity cost to customers by 10 to 15 per cent," she said.
Tomblin disclosed that the 200,000 electricity thieves utilised more than three times the amount of energy consumed by paying customers.
Tomblin was supported by Gary Barrow, senior vice-president of JPS. "Over the last 10 years, electricity theft has increased by 100 per cent from eight per cent in 2003 to 17 per cent of net generation," he said.
Added Barrows: "This situation affects our bottom line, but more important, it affects Jamaica as two million kilowatt/hours is lost every month."
But even as she warned about dire consequences to the JPS, Tomblin pointed to a man who was electrocuted on Wednesday night.
The man, said to be a relative of a JPS employee, was reportedly killed by an illegal connection in Hanover, in the midst of the controversy that erupted over JPS' decision.
Repeating her declaration that there will be no ease in the "war" against electricity thieves, Tomblin called for more stringent legislation to nab the perpetrators, whom she said have become brazen and bold.
Tomblin served notice that the JPS was equipped to take on any legal challenge brought by persons or parties who harboured thoughts of hauling it before the court for interrupting its electricity supply in areas where theft is rampant.
However, Tomblin said the decision to change course in the aftermath of a directive from the Office of Utilities Regulation and a meeting with the team led by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller had more to do with the plight of paying JPS customers.
"We had done that with a heavy heart, but while this initiative did not work, we are not stopping, we are going to pursue bold, new ones," she asserted.
Tomblin said the "war" is not confined to residential thieves but sophisticated equipment has been brought in to target dishonest commercial entities whose operatives are more deceptive in their illegal activities.
"This is not confined to one socio-economic class, one geographic area, it's across Jamaica and across socio-economic classes ... . There are claims that we only want to prey on the most vulnerable, but the truth is, we only want to protect the most vulnerable."
Tomblin served notice that the JPS will be pushing relentlessly for stricter penalty within the context of sterner legislation to be softened by social interventions with partners of key stakeholders in society. "There will be a needs-based approach to help the genuine poor," Tomblin asserted.