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KINGSTON — The Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) has announced that a former Director General, J. Paul Morgan, will lead the investigations into the Jamaica Public Service Company Limited's (JPS) billing practices.

The seven-member team will also examine the recent meter changes by the JPS, as well as conduct meter inspections and audits. The investigations commenced a week ago and are expected to be completed in six weeks, and a report submitted by October 7.

Other members of the team are: Economist, Winston Robothom; Engineers, Peter Johnson and Andrew Lewis; Consumer Affairs Analyst, Marsha Minott; Attorneys-at-Law, Shenae Riley and Wayne McGregor; and Chief Information Officer, Leighton Hamilton.

The utilities watchdog said that, due to the overwhelming clamour from the public, as of August 18, it has intensified ongoing regulatory oversight of JPS regarding customer service and billing issues.

The announcement was made by Director of Consumer and Public Affairs, Michael Bryce, at a press conference at the OUR in New Kingston. He said the OUR had taken note of the public's concerns, weeks before deciding to investigate the issues.

"The investigation, therefore, represents an escalation of the review of the company's practices to address the concerns," he stated.

Mr. Bryce said the terms of reference for the investigators have been completed, and among the issues to be examined are: the legitimacy of the high consumption billing complaints which follow replacement of old meters with new digital ones; the process the JPS follows in effecting the changeover of the meters; and the appropriateness of its current back billing policies and procedures.

Mr. Morgan said that the results of the assessments, will inform any recommendations that the team will be required to make to the OUR as to possible regulatory procedures. He said the team was assembled essentially utilising a core group of OUR staff members comprising economists, engineers, attorneys, consumer specialists and analysts.

"The modus operandi will be geared towards reviewing and analysing data, which we will have to request and see from JPS. We will have to verify and cross check all of this data, as best we can, and we will correlate this with data we might get from a general sampling of customers who have complained," he said.

He said this information will also be cross referenced with data from the Bureau of Standards and the Consumer Affairs Commission.

"We will want to audit specific areas of JPS' operations, particularly their metering functions, and that would start literally from the point at which the meters are read, to the point where the meter readings are uploaded to their billing system," he stated.

"And then, of course, we will also want to audit the integrity of the billing function itself, and this will include the software platform and whether the platform itself is operating at a level of integrity," he noted.

Mr. Morgan pointed out that the investigation will also look at the company's level of compliance with directives from the OUR, as well as compliance with its own internal policies and procedures.

The team will also carry out random testing of the digital meters, both at the lab and customer level.

"Part of that testing would be to walk behind the JPS meter readers and do some random testing ourselves," he explained.

He concluded that, although the task would generally take three months to complete, the team will work assiduously to ensure that the investigations are done within the deadline.

By Athaliah Reynolds, JIS Reporter