Sun | Dec 5, 2021

Let there be light

Published:Sunday | May 18, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Daniel Thwaites

Daniel Thwaites

Remember Father Abraham begged Yahweh for the City of Sodom:

Then Abraham approached Him and said: "Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are 50 righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the 50 righteous people in it? (Genesis 18: 23-24)

Well, with all the talk about 'God' returning to fix the energy debacle, JPS decided to go all Old Testament on certain communities. In the flash of a blown bulb, we were reintroduced to the idea of collective punishment. But whereas for Yahweh, even 10 righteous men could have spared Sodom, not even 30 per cent righteously paying customers could save parts of Jones Town, Trench Town, and Rema.

In essence, Doubting Tomblin has served notice that she wants JPS to discontinue its role as a reluctant purveyor of social welfare.

The 70 per cent figure is a breathtakingly large amount of theft. However, bear in mind that it doesn't mean 70 per cent of residents are stealing, because the thieves use far more than ratepayers. Think about it. If you're paying, you monitor your usage and consider the carrying cost of the additional television set. But if it's free, not only do you have more money to buy a bigger and better TV, you fall asleep with it on while the air conditioning and fans purr in the background.

Tomblin confirms "that the 200,000 electricity thieves utilised more than three times the amount of energy consumed by customers", according to Friday's Gleaner. Using that figure, though, means that it's a minority of people who are responsible for the 70 per cent usage. So it also makes the indiscriminate cut-off and collective penalty even less defensible. And as many letter writers, including Bruce Golding, have explained, JPS hasn't nearly exhausted available means and methods to limit theft. This collective chastisement regime is indefensible.

Naturally, JPS was summoned to meetings with the Government and, after some resistance, the initiative has been withdrawn. Of course, however briefly it came into existence, the policy was heating up conversations all over, and in that respect it was a win for JPS. For the matter is squarely in the public domain for at least the next nine days of wonder, and there are commitments to do something about it. So much so that a committee, the grand object of much government policy, has been set up.

I sympathise with the JPS at least to the small extent of acknowledging that no company can sustain 20 per cent of its output being stolen. The company is trying to cope where the State can barely manage. Electricity theft is really a police matter, but where police are concentrating on dismantling gangs and scraping up corpses (even if eight per cent fewer than last year), handling electricity theft just isn't likely to be a great priority.

New York has the most expensive electricity rate in the continental United States, but it's less than half our rate. So while I don't condone the theft, at some point we have to stop kicking people in the teeth and then asking them to smile. Again, I'm not here tendering an excuse, just pointing out one aspect of the problem.

Some won't accept it, but there is a difference between an 'explanation' and a 'justification'. When you explain why something happens, you don't justify the occurrence. Let me give an example. I can explain why Paul Burke only wears Jesus sandals: time hot, shoes are uncomfortable, and big man nah try impress nuhbaddy. But is it justified? That's a completely different issue, and one I hope the mayor will look into.

Anyway, I was privy to one conversation about this electricity issue where a well-heeled participant went off: "This is what's wrong with Jamaica! Everything is a bly. If you can't afford it, you shouldn't get it! What happen to oil lamp and wood fire?" Now it occurred to me that if you were to translate Marie Antoinette's "Let them eat cake!" into today's Jamaican, it might be: "Let them burn wood!"

The tragic background to all this is a massive government policy failure over multiple administrations. Consider that if policymakers had decided 10 years ago to stick with inefficient oil as its fuel choice, but simply modernised its generating capacity at Old Harbour and Hunts Bay, an estimated US$200 million annually would have been saved. Factor into your calculation that quite apart from the reduced pressure on the dollar, because a reduced electricity bill is an incredibly efficient way of distributing those savings, there would have been billions returned to consumers to purchase lower-cost goods and services.

If we had moved on alternative and more efficient fuel sources even sooner, the savings would be multiples of even that. In this clear respect, through shortsighted policy and sloppy execution, we are the architects of poverty.

Having dug the pit, we are now in need of being saved from it. Enter Dr Vin Lawrence. But the trouble is that his enterprise team will immediately run into challenges about its legal status and authority. Although the OUR has been unable to deliver, it will not take kindly to the plan for others to usurp its role, and a change to the law will be laborious.

What we have here is a righteous mess. So as much as we're invited to await word from Dr Lawrence, because "In God we trust", it's looking less and less likely to me that we will hear "Let there be light!" by the 2016 target date.

Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.