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EDITORIAL - Garrisons and electricity theft

Published:Thursday | November 27, 2014 | 12:00 AM

We welcome Julian Robinson's clarification that his task force on electricity theft did not wither and, in fact, had a hand in the design of a pilot project in seven inner-city communities, by Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) and the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF), to find a solution to the problem.

It is important that this problem is addressed. For no serious business could afford to lose to pilferage 16 per cent of output or 26 per cent of what it sells, which JPS, the light and power company, says is what happens with the electricity it transmits and distributes.

So, the cost of that theft is shared among the JPS's 600,000 legitimate customers, who already pay a premium for power because of the company's old, inefficient plants, which it can ill afford to replace, unless with debt at rates that are higher than would be the case if the investment was being made out of profit. This unvirtuous cycle has helped to keep the cost of energy high, contributing to the uncompetitiveness of the Jamaican economy.

With the pilot project, JPS, with the support and oversight of JSIF, a government poverty-reduction agency, will wire homes for electricity, bring them on to the formal grid, and use community-based persons as commercial representatives and social interveners, who will, among other things, help the new subscribers to manage their electricity consumption.

Mr Robinson, the junior mining and energy minister, notes that the pilot project will operate in a section of his South East St Andrew constituency, and has highlighted the effort he has made to engage his constituents and the training/economic schemes that are corollary to the electricity component. Mr Robinson's personal effort is to be commended.

The Hard Political Component

But the minister missed a significant part of the case.

While we appreciate the partnership between JPS and an agency of the state to tackle this matter, a larger political segment of the issue is not being sufficiently addressed: the hard political component.

Of course, poverty contributes to the theft of electricity in parts of inner-city Jamaica, but it is also driven by a culture of entitlement that is a feature of the politics and muscle and partisan exclusion that is only in slow retreat, which spawned the party-branded enclaves that are known as garrisons in the lexicon of Jamaican politics. It will require more than JSIF-type do-good projects to change these ideas, including the tacit distribution of other people's goods as social welfare, which, essentially, is the case when party people - whether they are formally so aligned or not - guarantee the ideals of the garrison. Our argument, in other words, is for formal political leadership to renounce the concept of garrison and to visibly and meaningfully put themselves at the forefront of efforts to free these captive communities and to return the rule of law to them.