Wed | Dec 1, 2021

JPS defends Portmore office closure amid protests

Published:Friday | March 5, 2021 | 12:08 AMRuddy Mathison/Gleaner Writer
Southboro Councillor Ainsley Parkins holding a placard during protest against the impending closure of the JPS Portmore branch office yesterday.
Southboro Councillor Ainsley Parkins holding a placard during protest against the impending closure of the JPS Portmore branch office yesterday.

Despite the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) winding down operations at its Portmore Mall store due to low usage by customers, residents of the municipality are urging the light and power company to reconsider as the closure will be a major inconvenience to them.

JPS Media and Public Relations Manager Audrey Williams said that the closure of the branch office and the transfer of bill-payment services to its online modality was necessary.

“Just about 2,500 customers out of a customer base of 52,000 currently used the office for bill payment on a monthly basis, and this is not sustainable to keep the office open,” Williams explained, adding that the branch had reduced operations by two days per week since last September.

The JPS’s Portmore office is one of seven to be closed as of next Monday, March 8. The others are located in the parishes of Clarendon, St Elizabeth, Westmoreland, St Mary, St Thomas, and Kingston (East Parade).

However, yesterday, Portmore Mayor Leon Thomas and a number of councillors from the Portmore Municipal Corporation joined residents to protest the planned closure.

“This is not true. The JPS had not provided any data to support this claim. Our seniors are suffering, and they cannot manage to go to Spanish Town to do business,” Thomas asserted.

But a March 3 letter sent to Thomas by JPS President and CEO Michel Gantois, in response to concerns raised by the mayor the previous day, had, in fact, noted that an increase in the use of the company’s online platform had led to “a great reduction in visits to JPS’s offices, especially within the last year, with less than five per cent of our customers in some parishes now coming in to do business with us in person.

“In fact, only about 2,500 customers in Portmore have been coming in to that office each month, mainly to get bill balances and pay bills,” continued the letter, a copy of which The Gleaner has seen.

Rhoda Thompson of Portsmouth protested that the JPS was forcing the elderly to move into unfamiliar territory,

“We seniors are unable to use online. How come they are asking us to use online when we are ignorant about it? Some of us don’t even own smart phones, debit or credit cards. We don’t even have Internet,” Thompson lamented.

She found support in Hellshire resident Keith Stewart, who said customers could be exposed to increase danger in going to Spanish Town to conduct business in light of the pandemic and the Old Capital’s violent history.

President of the Portmore Chamber of Commerce Norman Walker is also asking the JPS to reconsider.

“The JPSCo is a major flagship entity in Portmore, and instead of closing this branch that has been very useful to the residents, they should be moving forward with meaningful expansion to the facility,” Walker suggested.