JPS ready to name, shame and prosecute electricity thieves

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Jamaica – AAfter four years of absorbing tens of millions of US dollars in losses due to electricity theft, and appealing to Jamaicans to stop the illegal activity, the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) says it is now ready to name, shame and prosecute offenders.
The company’s position is stated in its ‘Energy Matters’ column published on page 18 of today’s
Jamaica Observer and written by its director of revenue security, Major George Kates.
“We now strongly believe that if we do not prosecute, name and shame, we cannot win. We will therefore be working more closely with the police to make arrests and prosecution a major part of our anti-theft strategy going forward,” Major Kates stated.
He said that, in the past, the company declined to push the authorities to arrest and prosecute people caught stealing electricity, particularly customers who immediately pay or make arrangements to pay all outstanding amounts.
“The company’s focus is usually on recovering the outstanding amounts. We are finding, though, that people are using this as a cheap and easy way to boost their cash flow — essentially taking an unauthorised interest-free loan from JPS and promptly paying up when caught. Accordingly, JPS will now work harder with the police force to secure arrests,” Kates said.
Yesterday, the company disclosed that in 2015 it took down 205,300 throw-ups – basically crude, illegal connections found mostly in depressed communities – while 783 people were arrested for electricity theft that resulted in a loss of US$18.8 million to the company.
While the total electricity theft loss for last year was not yet available, JPS said almost 900 arrests were made and more than 150,000 illegal lines removed.
The company also said that it spends approximately US$20 million each year to fight electricity theft.
In 2013, JPS Chief Executive Officer and President Kelly Tomblin said the company suffered a US$73-million loss for the year 2012-2013. At that time, Tomblin said that the pressure from stolen electricity across the island was driving the power company into insolvency.
“The ship is going to sink under this weight. If this continues it might mean insolvency,” Tomblin declared at the time.
She said that the JPS lost US$30 million in 2012 and a further US$43 million in 2013.
In 2014, Tomblin said the company would go under if thieves were not reined in, as 200,000 non-paying users of energy continued to rape the company and, by effect, punish those who pay as the cost is defrayed to them.
“We are not going to sit back and let this continue. It requires huge measures. We have tried the simple measures,” she said, despite heeding an Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) decree to end its practice of turning off power in communities where theft is rampant.
In 2015, JPS signed a contract with the World Bank and Impact Lab to develop an analytical application tool to help detect electricity theft. The contract, JPS said, was worth roughly J$6.9 million, and represented a grant of US$40,000 from the World Bank, with the remainder being the company’s contribution to the effort.
That move was the latest in a number of measures the company said it implemented in an effort to reduce the practice. However, it noted that the measures did little to curtail the theft, even as the maximum penalty for people convicted of stealing electricity has moved from $1 million to $5 million.
Last year, Tomblin, obviously frustrated that the problem was not letting up, said JPS was losing US$2 million per month to electricity theft. “We just have to say, once and for all, that was historical (and) we just have to do something dramatic,” she said.
In today’s column, Major Kates noted that under the new electricity licence, stiffer penalties for offenders were enacted in 2016.
“Given what we have seen, we now believe that the penalty should be even stiffer, to be an effective deterrent – especially for business owners and affluent homeowners. Other countries have employed more draconian measures to minimise this crime. In India, for example, there’s now a mandatory prison sentence for electricity theft,” he said.

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