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Arscott alleges mismanagement in GOJ settling ‘unverified’ $7b streetlight debt

Published:Wednesday | February 21, 2024 | 12:13 AMKimone Francis/Senior Staff Reporter
Former Local Government Minister Noel Arscott.

Former Local Government Minister Noel Arscott has accused the Government of squandering taxpayers’ funds, alleging that billions of dollars are being doled out to the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) for out-of-service streetlights.

Arscott made the assertion while pushing back at a declaration made by Richard Vernon, the deputy mayor of Montego Bay, that the Government had to settle a hefty bill left behind by the Simpson Miller administration in which Arscott served as minister.

“I want to say something about light. They are talking about power up Jamaica. They have no authority. They have $7 billion outstanding and we paid that bill. So we can demand electricity, proper service from JPS,” Vernon said on Saturday during the second of two local government debates put on by the Jamaica Debates Commission.

The debates were put on ahead of Monday’s local government elections.

But Arscott has countered that argument, while mentioning that respective municipal corporations are responsible for monitoring streetlights.

He suggested in some instances, this is not being done, resulting in unverified bills being settled.

“The Government is paying for a lot of lights that are not working,” Arscott told The Gleaner.

“I hear on the debate one councillor boasting how much money we left there and they had paid it up. We couldn’t pay them because we couldn’t verify the accuracy of the JPS bill,” he added.

Arscott said that without fail, annually, the power company produced bills for streetlights that were not working.

The former minister, who served in the portfolio between 2012 and 2016, said many of the streetlights were converted from sodium paper lamps to LED, a move that should have caused a reduction in the bills produced.

REDUCTION IN USAGE

He said that the move resulted in a reduction in the usage of power by 60 per cent.

“They bill you same way for the old sodium vapour at a high rate. And so those issues were there that we couldn’t sign off [on]. We can’t just get up and spend taxpayers’ money and pay JPS. But it’s not their money, so they just gladly pay it out before they query and then they boast about it,” said Arscott.

The JPS did not respond directly to a Gleaner query on Arscott’s claims, noting only that the matter was settled.

“The fully legitimate bill owed by the Government of Jamaica was settled as indicated and publicly disclosed by the Ministry of Local Government at the time,” Media and Public Relations Manager Audrey Williams said in an emailed response.

The Gleaner sought to ascertain whether JPS had provided details and verification for the bill the Government settled prior to the settlement and if the claims made by Arscott were inaccurate.

In 2018, Local Government Minister Desmond McKenzie announced that the Government had cleared the $7-billion debt for the streetlights.

In explaining the move to pay off the debt that accumulated over several years, the minister said the State was being hit by interest charges each time it missed a payment.

Consequently, he said it was decided that $4.5 billion would be paid to the power company over a two-month period to reduce the debt significantly.

He said after discussions with Finance Minister Dr Nigel Clarke and approval from Cabinet, the entire debt was settled.

He said that the arrears stood in the way of residents getting defective streetlights repaired and new ones installed.

Following the debt payment, the JPS committed to repairing the 12,000 malfunctioning streetlights.

kimone.francis@gleanerjm.com