Utility theft costs Jamaican utilities $35 million a year


According to utilities on the island of Jamaica, they have lost more than $35 million to theft of electricity and equipment.

In an online presentation last week, the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) and representatives of all the major utility companies — Jamaica Public Service (JPS), National Water Commission (NWC) and telecoms firms FLOW and Digicel – spoke of the impact of theft on utilities and customers.

JPS director of losses operations and analytics, Rasheed Anderson said the electric company estimates that in the region of 200,000 households and commercial entities are stealing electricity. The utility company has approximately 600,000 legitimate customers on its system.

Anderson cautioned attendees: “When persons steal electricity, it impacts the quality and reliability of our power. It damages equipment that is essential to serving you, and we have seen in many instances where sometimes people are out of power due to persons stealing from us.”

According to Anderson, the company has spent $32.2 million on fuel which has not been recovered.

NWC’s corporate communications manager, Charles Buchanan said that company estimates that between 12%-30% of the water it produces is stolen.

“We categorise the instances of theft affecting our operations in primarily four ways — infrastructure theft; theft from our employees which has created significant issues in our ability to carry out work in certain areas; theft in our watershed areas (theft of land by squatters or theft of tree cover); and theft of service and supplies,” Buchanan explained.

“We continue to see illegal connections, meter tampering and meter bypasses, illegal use of water from hydrants, and illegal commercial and other types of consumption,” Buchanan said.

Global challenge – South Africa

In South Africa, police arrested a suspect who allegedly was involved in the theft of aluminium and copper cable to the value of $374,000. And in the City of Tshwane, the city is spending approximately $15 million annually replacing stolen cable.

It is estimated that copper theft costs the South African economy between $375 million a year, Eskom spends in the region of $150 million a year replacing stolen copper cables.

Global challenge – United States

Since August, according to Wateronline, “Detroit Water and Sewerage have conducted more than 400 investigations, and more than $4 million has been identified in unpaid or illegal usage. Most of these are legal businesses.”

Global challenge – Uganda

According to authorities, in one subregion alone, theft has resulted in losses of $810,000. Yet, losses have reduced by 14% in 2018 from 57% in 2016.

In total 368 suspects were apprehended in 2017, although almost none of them were charged once reaching court. According to the local chief magistrate, the conventional legal system would not appropriately address the problem due to innumerable loopholes. He said further that the judiciary has decided to set up the Standards Utilities and Wildlife Court to specifically handle cases involving illegal power connections, power thefts and vandalism.