As one of the claimants, I wish to welcome the landmark ruling in the case involving Citizens United for the Reduction of Electricity (CURE) and the Jamaica Public Service Company. This is indeed a victory for the Jamaican consumers who have been the victims of a monopoly that has been exploitative in its billing practices. It also demonstrates to the people of Jamaica that they must not be timid in their stance against anything they perceive to be an injustice.
In 2011, I moved a motion in the Senate for steps to be taken by the then JLP government to break the stranglehold of a monopoly that has proved inimical to economic growth and a burden on the micro-business sector. In fact, a Joint Select Committee of Parliament, chaired by me, was established by the previous government to examine the feasibility of breaking the JPS monopoly and its implication on the price of electricity and the economy.
The ruling further betrays the level of arrogance demonstrated by the then minister in granting an exclusive licence to the JPSCo despite evidence which advised him to the contrary. As Jamaica celebrates its Golden Jubilee of Independence, we must focus our minds on the need for urgent constitutional reform, which relieves any minister of such unilateral and far-reaching power without the consent of Parliament.
The irony of this ruling is the fact that the very architect of this monopoly – the government – has been thrown a lifeline within the context of the minister’s thrust to break the monopoly. I again propose that the government leverage its 19 per cent stake – which values somewhere in the region of US$124 million of the JPSCo’s net book value of total assets of US$624 million as reflected in the company’s recently published financial statements – and seek to purchase the Transmission and Distribution assets at a reasonable price. The value of their T and D assets currently stands at US$224 million.
The GOJ will then list the shares of the new company on the local stock exchange, possibly through an IPO, while itself retaining a portion of the shares. This process may be structured where the purchase sees GOJ not being exposed to laying out any additional cash. Private sector interests and individuals (including the diaspora) through the stock market may supplement the purchase price for this asset.
The Independent System Operator will be owned by Jamaicans. The struggle as a developing country, to reduce the cost of electricity to the economy, will only be successful if we put aside narrow partisan interests and cause a coalition of political will, aimed at ending this strangulation of a JPS monopoly which is inimical to the country’s economic growth. Minister Paulwell, while he seeks to redeem himself of the overwhelming control of a monopoly, created by his administration, must engage the Opposition in realising his goal of being the man to rid the country of this problem. It will be a well-deserved feather in his cap.
I note with gratitude the commitment on the part of learned attorney Hugh Wildman and his team who committed themselves from the start, despite great odds. Jamaica is in need of more maverick lawyers to challenge the status quo in defence of the common good.
Former Senator, 1st Claimant
Montego Bay, St James