Wed | Dec 8, 2021

Mark Wignall | Members of parliament on stealing light

Published:Saturday | October 2, 2021 | 12:05 AM

Electricity theft is worse in the urban inner-city pockets where it is not exactly heroic to have a legal connection and trying to pay one’s bills on time.
Electricity theft is worse in the urban inner-city pockets where it is not exactly heroic to have a legal connection and trying to pay one’s bills on time.

Last week, three People’s National Party (PNP) members of parliament (MPs) who were lucky enough to hold on to their seats after the September 2020 blowout by the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) were complaining about the action of the Jamaica Public...

Last week, three People’s National Party (PNP) members of parliament (MPs) who were lucky enough to hold on to their seats after the September 2020 blowout by the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) were complaining about the action of the Jamaica Public Service (JPS) in trying to stem the tide of households stealing electric power from the built grid.

Those of us who are not yet filthy rich and can still bear the closeness of a social conscience will mostly sympathise with the very poor who find themselves illegally abstracting power. At the same time, we know other poor people who try their best to pay for their water and light bills. Most times when a comparison is done the negative factor is not necessarily low earnings but one of a nasty habit borne out of a freeness mentality.

In Woodford Park, which used to be a middle-class community in the 1960s, we are told by the JPS that 83 per cent of the households are stealing light. The politicians are into another great rediscovery moment and it has triggered an I-have-no-answer-but-I-can-talk-about-it response.

In the late 1990s, I entered a wide open yard space of a rural house nestled high up in the St Catherine hills. I was leading a team of interviewers who were conducting a farming survey. I noticed that there was a long inch and a half flexible black plastic piping snaking itself through a banana walk into the yard. And because it had no nozzle the water running through it was going through freely and making its way to a gully about 40 feet away.

MP HELP ME OUT

‘Is when election a run di MP gi wi wid fittings and tell wi fi connect it to di mains up di road,’ the householder explained when I casually enquired about it. In another part of the same constituency as I travelled to a deeper part of the tomato-growing community, all along the way were wires thrown up and running through the bushes. And some of the nicest old people were living in those houses.

And of course, it is worse in the urban inner-city pockets where it is not exactly heroic to have a legal connection and trying to pay one’s bills on time. Many politicians take the easy way out. Seventy-four-year-old Casey walks with a cane and he is a constant political watcher. He invokes the name of his MP. “Him know that wi poor and him know wi tief di light but it better him mek wi tief it instead of pressure him every month.”

A taxi acquaintance who lives in Casava Piece explained to me years ago. “Poor people haffi fief di light. Dem doan have it. Wha dem fi do.”

Many houses in places then known as Trench Town were stolen from the original property owners in the 1970s. A householder once told me about how National Water Commission (NWC) disconnected his water in Harbour View for late payment. When he was paying the bill he also showed them one he had for a house in Trench Town. The bill for the Harbour View house was for $600. The bill for the house in Trench Town was for $4 million.

He asked the NWC clerk about the $4-million bill and no one attempting to lick it off. The lady smiled knowingly.

What did the MP at the time do to stop this wholesale criminality when that young man from Harbour View went to the South St Andrew community to collect his rent? Young men with guns approached him and warned him not to return to the community.

There is not a single member of parliament who is not aware of the screeching sound as sections of their constituency scrapes along towards anarchic behaviour. So when they suddenly want to complain about the sadness of the social decline in their communities I must ask where were you when you were witnessing its looming decadence. Conveniently blind? Or maybe a little bit deaf?

BITE OFF CLANSMAN GANG

The man who has been so far the prosecution’s chief witness in the big case at the Supreme Court has said that part of the gang’s $100,000 per day booty was used to pay lawyers. We have been told that the Government will have to separate itself from an estimated $50 million as the cost to the Government as legal aid for the accused.

At that rate, the Government ought to have high expectation in this case while one can expect that the best defence is the simplest one – the chief witness has gone all in and he has nothing more to lose. He must know the difference between him telling the unvarnished truth as against embellishment?

It would be interesting to know if at the physical site of all the problems, the Spanish Town bus park, extortion is still taking place while the trial is rolling on somewhat smoothly.

TAKE A DAY OFF EXTORTION

At one transportation hub that I know of, the extortionists have decided to give transport operators a day for themselves, that is, a day when nothing will be collected. How very charitable of them. That means that the transport operators will get to keep back some of what was always theirs.

Some of the evidence given in the trial points to the use of the gang’s network to physically monitor the police. Before a planned hit, men would drive out to ensure that police presence was limited. And of course, when evidence was given that a hit was carried out in the presence of police personnel, the message was obvious; the gang is merciless, ferocious and fearless.

If, as I suspect, extortion is still in place at the bus park but the kitty is in different hands, it simply means that the case at the Supreme Court may just be the path to the changing of the guard. And under no circumstances can it be for the better.

Mark Wignall is a political and public affairs analyst. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and mawigsr@gmail.com.