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Change the law - Gov't implored to allow squatters to get on the grid

Published:Friday | May 23, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Kelly Tomblin
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Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer

Shocked by the spate of electricity theft across the island, the Jamaica Public Service (JPS) is urging the Government to amend local laws to empower informal settlers or squatters to apply for electricity service.

Kelly Tomblin, president and chief executive officer of JPS, is stressing that the path must be cleared for legitimate electricity supply to be made readily accessible to informal settlers who are without proof of home-ownership documents.

Persons who, for years, have squatted on lands are often without documents that grant them access to electricity under existing laws, leaving them with no option but to access electricity illegally.

It's not only squatters who stand to benefit from her proposal to remove the strictures requiring documentary proof of ownership to access legitimate electricity from JPS.

Scores of other Jamaicans who live in houses without the requisite documentary proof of ownership and are not able to legally access power supply would benefit as well.

Tomblin stressed yesterday in a Gleaner Editors' Forum that sought to shed light on the proliferation of electricity theft throughout the country that the "no document" obstacle must be removed forthwith.

In the ongoing fight against the scourge involving approximately 200,000 Jamaicans, Tomblin stressed that an administrative solution to the problem is needed.

"We have to wire these homes, we have to get over this idea that they (occupiers) have to prove that they own the homes because they don't have the papers to prove it," stressed Tomblin.

She said there was need at this stage to work out the infrastructure to ensure each person's abode can be suitably wired to facilitate the supply of electricity before the country can move forward. "Then we have to manage their load for them and help them."

Added Tomblin: "We are going to have to be a little dictatorial at times to say you only get this, you only get that and then after, it goes to market-based rates."

Tomblin conceded that because it has been a major problem stretching over many years, there will be no quick fix.

She pointed out that success means that everybody has to play their role with a social infrastructure in place, if necessary.

"That is if we decided that everybody gets it," she said.

"If you are having trouble paying your electricity bill, apply to these agencies through PATH ... . If we are going to need power. We are going to need a needs-based test or something to help subsidise the people who can't afford it."

Having taken care of two groups who are deemed to be in special categories, Tomblin said the next move is to enforce stricter penalties, including seizure of appliances used to steal electricity.

Tomblin also proposed that a public-education system be put in place in schools on the issue of conservation.