MEMBER of Parliament for St Catherine North Eastern Kerensia Morrison is calling for a revision of antiquated regulations which tie water supply debts to properties and force new owners to pay off huge bills left behind by previous residents.
“I’m calling on the NWC [National Water Commission] to revise the regulations of 1985 that ties water to the property, to the owner and not to the customer. This provision is hurting many of my constituents, many of whom do not own property, and especially when the property owner may have died, may have migrated with no interest in paying off the back [amount],” she said during her contribution to the 2022/23 State of the Constituency Debate in Parliament on Tuesday.
Morrison was referring to the National Water Commission (Water Supply Services) (Rates and Charges) Regulations of 1985 which stipulates that an occupier of a parcel of land is responsible for the payment of water bills on the property.
Under the regulations, water supply debts do not go away after the occupier leaves the premises, but remain due and payable to the NWC regardless of who may have used the water and incurred the debt.
“We in this House have the power to effect changes to these regulations. A regulation written 37 years ago might have been workable then, brilliant even, but [is] no longer practical today,” the MP said.
An impassioned Morrison argued that it cannot be expected that a family member who wishes to occupy property left by a relative has to pay off bills amounting to “$200,000, $300,000, $500,000 or millions of dollars” in order to get water to the property.
“To ask persons to pay off these amounts for water that they did not consume in order to have the service — water owed generations ago — is outrageous,” Morrison insisted.
The MP said that for her constituents residing in Riversdale, many other communities have not received water in over 30 years and would be denied under the regulations when they get water supply.
“In other instances, some customers — and this is right across Jamaica — are saying that they keep getting monthly bills without receiving a drop of water,” she said.
Morrison argued that while many of her constituents can afford to pay “the little monthly bill, what they cannot afford is to clear $500,000 — and this is one of the things that leads to water theft”.
“I believe in following rules and I believe in adhering to regulations. However, rules and regulations must first be reasonable, must first be fair and just and with an awareness of situational ethics,” she said.
The MP then turned her wrath to the Jamaica Public Service (JPS)…stating: “you a di next one”.
“Our utility provider needs to show respect and regard for our consumers in rural Jamaica…As soon as the sky becomes overcast, light gone. Sometimes for no apparent reason there is an outage for hours, there is an outage for days. JPS do you know that this spells disaster for schools, for a shopkeeper, for businesses?” she demanded to know.
“We urge JPS, we are calling on our utility provider to be sensitive to the needs of that chicken farmer…having just killed [chicken]…light gone and the entire stock is spoilt. This happens. Why? Because you did not clear overhanging trees,” she said.
She thanked Minister of Science, Energy and Technology Darly Vaz for “demanding more from our utility providers”.
In an exclusive interview with the Jamaica Observer last month Vaz had chastised JPS for what he described as its poor handling of customer satisfaction issues, and called for the firm to explain how it will compensate customers who suffered damage or loss of income from power outages.
Vaz had also expressed disappointment with the 0.7 per cent average rate increase recently granted by the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) to the JPS, which saw the majority of its customers paying more for electricity bills in August.