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EDITORIAL - Tough road for new JPS boss

Published:Sunday | April 8, 2012 | 12:00 AM

WE HOPE that Shelly Tomblin, the American corporate heavy hitter, who is a week into her job as CEO of Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS), finds Jamaica a pleasant and hospitable place to live.

But Ms Tomblin, were she not before, would be aware by now that hers is no cushy assignment, for which there is a honeymoon. For Ms Tomblin has assumed leadership of a company with over half a million mostly angry customers, including many of the island's largest and most influential firms, who have not been shy about making public their displeasure.

Indeed, unusual for corporate Jamaica, a number of big players - Digicel, Wisynco, Jamaica Broilers Group, GraceKennedy Group, Mussons Jamaica Ltd, Caribbean Producers and ATL/Sandals - have been venting in newspaper advertisements about the high cost of power. Additionally, they have assumed leadership of a campaign on the social-network site Facebook for Jamaicans to put pressure on JPS and the Government, to do something - and with urgency.

The issue is that at around $0.41 per kilowatt-hour, the cost of electricity in Jamaica is among the highest in the Caribbean and is a major drag on the competitiveness of the island's economy.

Consumers largely blame this state of affairs on JPS. They feel the light and power company, with the help of lax regulators, has not invested sufficiently or wisely in generating capacity and has abused its transmission and distribution monopoly in the market.

Competition the answer

Along with a growing number of people, Phillip Paulwell, the new energy minister, believes that fundamentally, the solution to high electricity costs is competition. Mr Paulwell wants to break the JPS monopoly.

This newspaper has no conclusive position on either side of the argument. We agree, however, that the price of electricity represents a substantial constraint on production and productivity in Jamaica and will have to fall substantially to around US$0.10 per kWh, or lower, if our economy is to be competitive with others in the region.

Unfortunately, there is no coherent plan, programme or policy for how this is to be achieved. Neither is there sufficient or readily available, credible data nor analyses to help the public arrive at an informed position. Critical actors appear to be talking at, rather than with, each other.

Herein lies a critical element of Ms Tomblin's assignment if, in a cacophony of divergent assumptions and the burden of high prices, Jamaicans feel there are no options but to sweep JPS aside.

She must, for instance, quickly articulate the JPS' plans for lowering the cost of electricity, more aggressively than previously enunciated, over the short, medium and long terms, and what would be expected from the policymakers and regulators for this to happen.

Ms Tomblin should also be frank about the likely posture of the JPS' principals Marubeni Corporation and Korea East and West Power, should the market situation change.

But it is not only the JPS that need to speak with clarity. So too must the Jamaican authorities. Sound bites, as Mr Paulwell should have learned from hard experience, are no substitute for robust policy.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.