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Millions of JPS dollars continue to evaporate

Published:Monday | February 4, 2019 | 12:00 AMJason Cross/Gleaner Writer
JPS contractors at work on the Mandela Highway in St Catherine in October 2018.

People who abstract electricity illegally are finding ingenious ways to beat sophisticated equipment installed by the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) geared towards preventing them from doing so and continue to cause disruptions in the services offered to legitimate customers, the Office of Utilities Regulations (OUR) has highlighted. As guest speaker at a weekly luncheon meeting of the Rotary Club of St Andrew on Tuesday, director of the OUR, Ansord Hewitt, revealed that “the JPS has reported a noticeable increase in the use of sophisticated methodologies to abstract electricity illegally.

Hewitt pointed out that those illegal abstractions not only end up costing rate payers, but also disrupt important planning, degrade available electricity services, and increase the vulnerability of the system to outages.

Lower systems losses

Last year, in the first six months, JPS recorded over 5,000 meter irregularities, which did not include illegal wire connections in inner-city areas. A document provided by the JPS indicated that despite challenges, the company ended 2018 with system losses at the lowest in six years. Some US$30 million was invested last year to combat theft.

JPS has been conducting wide-scale meter audits, removing illegal throw-up lines, using technology and analytics to detect illegal activity, and partnering with the security forces.

Despite modest successes in 2018, electricity theft continues to be a big challenge for Jamaica. About 18 per cent of the electricity produced in Jamaica is stolen.

An estimated 200, 000 households and businesses are stealing electricity.”

The document revealed that persons in Kingston and St Andrew South, St Catherine, Kingston and St Andrew North, Clarendon, and St James were the largest stealers of electricity. “

“More than 60 per cent of the electricity supplied to several communities in (red zones) is stolen. On average, persons who steal electricity use three times the amount used by paying customers. In some communities, it is the cultural norm. Most electrical fires in Jamaica result from the unsafe conditions created by electricity theft. Service interruptions and equipment damage are often caused by illegal connections, negatively impacting productivity. Most electrocutions and electrical accidents are caused by illegal activity,” it said.

The Electricity Act 2015 stipulates that anyone who unlawfully abstracts, consumes, diverts or causes to be diverted any electricity supplied by a single buyer commits an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding $5 million or imprisonment not exceeding two years.

The Gleaner last week spoke with a senior citizen in downtown Kingston where electricity theft is rampant.

He revealed that he moves back and forth between Jamaica and the United States and explained that the realities differ.

“Electricity is not stolen overseas where I live. In order to put a dent on it, they have to control the point at which electricity enters the system. People are going to steal the electricity because they have no work. Hustlers live in the garrison and are not on a payroll.

There is also a discipline problem. Ghetto people don’t like to pay bills. But, they need to pay”, he said.