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EDITORIAL - Tarnishing Jamaica's investor-friendly reputation

Published:Tuesday | April 24, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Who is going to protect our utility companies from mindless criminals who have wilfully destroyed their facilities through theft and rampant vandalism?

We ask this question in light of the recent demolition of a LIME cell site at Bernard Lodge, St Catherine, and various other reported cases of damage to property and equipment by thieves as they attempt to steal fuel, copper wire, metal and other valuable items.

If a comprehensive tally of the impact of crime on these facilities were to be done, we suspect that vandalism and theft of telecoms cables, fuel and generators from cell and transmitter sites would run into hundreds of millions of dollars. This is by no means an inconsequential matter.

In this latest incident, the telecoms company will have to spend about $16 million to repair the damage. LIME reported that the culprits incinerated the site by stuffing their equipment with pieces of cardboard and igniting it.

Serious offence

It is not clear whether the fire was started to cover up theft or whether the fire was started because the thieves were frustrated at not being able to extract the loot they had come for. If caught, we believe these culprits should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, including being charged with arson which is among the most serious offences against property.

Describing the extent of the damage as unprecedented, LIME's vice-president of service support and delivery, Howard Mollison, said LIME has been grappling with theft-related vandalism, but he called this latest incident "ruinous and destructive".

It is not difficult to tell what is fuelling this kind of criminality. Widespread poverty and unemployment are fuelling troubling levels of crime in our society. There are just too many people in our society without real opportunities, and they are desperate to get what they can, however they can.

But such acts of criminal damage should be strongly condemned by all well-thinking Jamaicans who will, hopefully, assist the police in catching the thieves by telling what they know. No one wins in such situations.

Expensive security measures

In a tight economy, every company is seeking to keep within its budget cap. Because of this vandalism, the utility company will have to likely invest in expensive security measures to reduce the opportunity for robbery, since these sites tend to be located in isolated areas.

While we may be justified in calling for regular police patrols, we do not realistically expect that the police are equipped with the resources to rigorously monitor these sites.

Let's not forget that, in the final analysis, it is the customers who will have to bear additional costs. But worse of all, Jamaica is left once again trying to salvage its reputation as an investor-friendly country seeking to attract interest from within the global business community.

Surely, something has to be done about this. The police must pursue these criminals relentlessly to indicate that these crimes will not be tolerated. Punishment should be swift and severe. In fact, we believe the courts should give consideration to compensating the victims of such criminal damage.

The most urgent debate this country should become engaged in at this time is how to create an enabling environment to encourage investment that will offer meaningful jobs to the thousands who now languish without hope.

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.