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Editors' Forum | JPS swapping big stick for carrot - Power provider drives up compliance in high-theft areas

Published:Sunday | April 14, 2019 | 12:00 AM
A web of throw-up lines are seen connected to Jamaica Public Service Company equipment in New Haven, St Andrew, on Saturday. Inner-city residents have not only been mounting throw-ups but sometimes run them underground to make detection more difficult.

Still vigorously committed to the fight against electricity theft, the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) has softened its approach even as it maintains a hard line in the drive to curb illegal abstraction.

Generations of Jamaicans, especially those in inner-city communities, justified their circumvention of the system on the grounds that they were entitled to an endless supply of this utility, at no cost to them. After years of arrest and despite a number of horrifying deaths and injuries from electrocution, the JPS had to accept that it was not winning. Poverty was definitely the major economic factor, but there were issues which had just as powerful impacts on the overall situation, a realisation which prompted decisive action but in new direction from the JPS,Vice-President of Customer Service Ramsay McDonald told a Gleaner Editors’ Forum on Thursday.

“For the red zone communities, we recognise that there is a social issue as well. So back in 2015, one of the things that JPS created was a community renewal team, because we recognised that we had to be approaching electricity theft in a different way. Our strike-force teams, you know you go in and you tear down the throw-ups, and by the time you drive out of that community, they’re going back up.

“So we started what we called an engagement programme, so you were tearing them down, but we were also looking at ways on how can we bring you on board as a customer. How can we regularise you as a customer? So we started a dialogue in some of the communities where we would walk through and do surveys to find out how many people are in the household, if they are employed and so on.”

Two inner-city communities that stand out for a high level of partnership with residents are Majesty Gardens in southwest St Andrew and Bowerbank in east Kingston.

Template for success

McDonald spoke to the investment process that created the template for success, talking up the growing popularity of its prepaid power facility. JPS has broadened its scope from just being a supplier of electricity to financing entrepreneurship programmes to make residents self-reliant.

That strategy has paid off – literally – in Majesty Gardens, the gritty neighbourhood often called ‘Back To’. JPS moved its number of compliant customers from seven to 714, overwhelmingly through its prepaid portal.

“We had, in Majesty Gardens, a certain level of success, and we partnered with JSIF (Jamaica Social Investment Fund) and USAID (United States Agency for International Development) in order to provide a system that would help these people to come on board. And it involved skills training as well in order to not only recognise that you need to have electricity, but you also need to be empowered to be able to pay for it, and so you have to have some alternative in terms of how you are going to do this, and so on.”

Transference of those lessons learnt to eastern Kingston has also served the energy company well, McDonald was proud to share.

“Bowerbank, when we went into that community, you had basically a hundred per cent theft, and (now) out of about 110 persons, we have about 54 persons on board using the prepaid system,” McDonald told The Sunday Gleaner.

“So what we recognise is that we need to spend time having dialogue and building a relationship with residents as opposed to running in and tearing it (throw-ups) down, because that doesn’t help any of us.”