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Jamaicans paying with their lives for electricity theft

Published:Saturday | May 24, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer

As the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) grapples with losses due to electricity theft, many innocent Jamaicans continue to pay with their lives for the decision of others to steal electricity from the national grid. In fact, JPS executives say the issue of death by electrocution due to illegal connections is widespread but largely unreported.

"I have come across a number of cases of electrocution that are never reported (of) children. Normally when it happens, they (consumers) will call us and we go and find out exactly what caused it, but many of those instances that we respond to are actually not reported, and I am sure that there are many instances where it happens where we don't know about it," Gary Barrow, senior vice-president of energy delivery, told a recent Gleaner Editors' Forum.

Last Wednesday, a man was electrocuted while hunting crabs in Orange Bay, Hanover, after he became entangled in wires which had been used to facilitate an illegal connection. Preliminary investigations by the light and power company showed that the wires had been attached to JPS overhead wires, and then run along the ground and through a culvert leading to the other side of the road.

"It is dangerous to life and property, negatively impacts the quality of electricity received by paying customers, and is unfair to all," the JPS said in a release in the wake of the tragedy.

Still, 36 persons were arrested during a massive anti-theft drive the company carried out in Lilliput, Norwood and Whitehouse in St James between Friday, May 16 and Saturday, May 17.

DANGER NOT A DETERRENT

While they could give no precise figures to support the claim of electrocution being on the rise, the executives insisted that the risk to life and property seemed not to be a deterrent to people bent on stealing electricity, with Chief Financial Officer Dan Theoc pointing to anecdotal evidence.

"I have no doubt that the vast majority of fires you see in these poor communities every weekend - homes burning down - the majority are because of the illegal connections," he told the forum.

"Now they are not gonna report to you that the reason a house burnt down was because they had an illegal connection, but it is a big problem," Theoc said.