Legal battle to break Jamaican power monopoly begins

(Jamaica Observer) A lawsuit aimed at busting the Jamaica Public Service’s (JPS) monopoly on islandwide light and power distribution was filed Friday in the Supreme Court.

The suit is being brought by a group of disgruntled JPS customers led by North Trelawny Member of Parliament Dennis Meadows and names as defendants the attorney general, the JPS and the Office of the Utilities Regulation (OUR).

In the suit, the claimants are seeking several declarations from the court, which, if successful, would revoke the JPS’s 27-year All-Island Electricity Licence, and open up the market to other players.

The licence was granted by then Mining and Energy Minister Bobby Pickersgill on March 30, 2001, pursuant to Section 3 of the Electric Lighting Act. The licence was in 2007 extended for a further seven years on the reommendation of the OUR, pursuant to Section 4 of the Office of Utilities Regulation Act. But the claimants — which include political advocate Betty Ann Blaine and Cryus Rousseau — are asking the court to declare the granting of the JPS licence and the extension “illegal, null and void and of no effect”.
In the event that the court so rules, the claimants are asking for a declaration that the JPS is operating without a licence, which is required by law, stipulated under Section of the Electric Lighting Act.

Alternatively, the claimants are contending that Section 3 of the Electric Lighting Act does not empower the minister to “disenfranchise the prospective right of any person to apply for a licence to transmit electricity, whether for personal, public or commercial purposes”.

The claimants are also seeking the following declarations:
* That the grant of an exclusive licence to the Jamaica Public Service Company Limited, on recommendation of the Office of the Utilities Regulation, constitutes an unlawful fetter on the discretion of the Ministers and subsequent Ministers in the grant of a licence to transmit electricity under Section 3 of the Electric Lighting Act, and/or conduct the business of the transmission of electricity pursuant to a licence granted under the said section 3 of the Electric Lighting Act;

* That the Office of Utilities Regulation acted unlawfully in recommending the grant of an exclusive licence by the Minister in favour of the Jamaica Public Service Company Limited, pursuant to Section 4 of the said Office of Utilities Regulation Act, as it has no power;

* That the said exclusive All-Island Licence is contrary to the provisions and spirit of the Fair Competition Act, and as such is unlawful;

* And such other relief as this Honourable Court deems just.
The claimants, who are being represented by attorney-at-law Hugh Wildman, instructed by attorney Roderick Gordon, are asking for costs.

JPS customers have for years been buckling under the strain of the hefty electricity bills and have been calling for an alternative light and power provider to join the market. Recently, some of the complainants involved in the lawsuit have said they were forced out of business as a result of the exorbitant bills.
The overwhelming outcry over the high power bills — including some from Government senators — led to the Government setting up a commission of enquiry into the billing practices of the JPS.

The lawsuit is not Meadows’ first lobby against the JPS. Last month, he endorsed a social network campaign urging Jamaicans to wear black in protest against the huge bills. JPS customers were encouraged to unplug their electrical appliances for a few hours in protest on that day, dubbed ‘Blackout Friday’.

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