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JPS shocked Jamaican politicians out of their complacent acceptance and encouragement of people stealing electricity by cutting off some Kingston communities that had over 70 percent of users who did not pay. Notably, these were in clearly identified ‘garrison’ communities.

The payers howled. The nonpayers whistled along. The Office of Utilities Regulation told JPS to lighten up and give the people back the full current. A new government-led committee will look at ways to combat electricity theft. Everyone can chip in with ideas. I will offer one.

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JPS has shown it's serious. How about the politicians? (Courtesy of The Gleaner.)

The desire is to do two things. First, to let everyone have access to a basic service of electric light; that’s a social minimum in current times. Second, to encourage a reasonable payment for services used and continued regular payment. So, identify each nonpayer and give that customer one week to do two things: make a minimum payment, and remove all electrical appliances. The first action helps JPS’s accounts; the second reduces the demands on the system. JPS said nonpayers use three times as much power as payers. That is a clear sign of the incentive from ‘freeness’.

After one week, if no payment has been received, JPS should disconnect the customer, and get the police to serve an arrest warrant. They should also be given emergency power to confiscate appliances, which could be auctioned or sold to help cover outstanding payment obligations.

The OUR should point out if any of this runs counter to JPS’s licence and suggest changes that keep the essential purposes but sit correctly.

I suspect this set of actions will lead to a large outcry. However, politicians should help by explaining to constituents what will happen and why. They should also explain that all of this is legal and necessary. If necessary, the MP for the areas should accompany JPS staff when identifying nonpayers and be on hand to offer to discuss any real financial problems.

The politicians can help those who claim they cannot pay by pointing to legal financial options, or facilitating access to government support.

I forsee some social turmoil. How much, will depend on political will.

If politicians are serious in their support of customers being honest and showing good civic behaviour, they will move fast to get this programme rolling. Any person who believes he or she CANNOT pay, must show that their use is an absolute minimum. They must also show they have no means to pay.

We need to end some serious hypocrisy. ‘Can’t pay’ must be made clear from ‘won’t pay’. People with appliances can pay, but have chosen to spend on other things. If there are genuine cases of need, identify them and deal with them accordingly. Theft cannot be the accepted solution. Otherwise, we cannot condemn that crime anywhere.

Nonpaying customers should all be treated the same: the threat of disconnection has to be real and applied. Those who do not pay cannot have privilege over payers; that’s nonsense. Anyone who is not conservative with usage cannot claim poverty.

This is the tip of a socio-economic iceberg of ‘excessive negligence’. If politicians want to help people socially, then do so by legislation or out of their own pockets. Enacting it through theft and misappropriation has to stop. Stop picking citizens’ pockets! Everyone knows what’s been going on so no need to keep up pretences.

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