Paying for services

Stabroek News
April 27, 2000

The cleaning of drains in some areas of the city after many years has brought to light a propensity of some residents, which has had serious repercussions. They feel obligated to offer a `small piece' to the people performing this service.

This is not a new trend. For years, we have been `fixing up' the man who comes to repair the broken pipe or clear the sewer; the man who comes to fix the broken phone or damaged power line; the garbage man, in order to induce him to remove the tree trimmings we put on the parapet after a day in the garden.

Paying for services has become so endemic in most sectors that those who perform them now believe they are entitled. When the payment is not immediately forthcoming, they will hint, ask for or demand it. And some of them will refuse outright to perform the service for which they are already being paid, if there is no additional monetary gain attached. Householders have been verbally abused for refusing to pay up and others find that the job is poorly done and therefore will not last.

Cleaning drains in this city is no easy feat. The young men performing this operation do so in a most primitive manner. They use sandbags to block the ends of the drain, and then scoop the hundreds of pounds of matter out with buckets. They have no gloves to protect their hands or boots for their feet. Their earnings are some $1,500 a day.

No one should have to work under such conditions. But these young labourers would have agreed to these conditions when they took the job, no doubt believing that they would be `topped up' by grateful citizens and that in the long term it would be well worth it. Sadly, this is true in many service areas. Reports of bribery in the police force and customs department abound. The fact is that many people in these sectors are grossly underpaid.

Impatience is also a factor here. Persons will visit a public service agency and be told that a certain process takes a week. They want it done `yesterday' and therefore will dangle a `carrot' before a worker who was probably wondering how to make ends meet until next payday. Next week this corrupter will tell a friend and a pattern is set. Corruption can also affect the psyche of the corrupted. Many of these people despise themselves as well as the person offering the bribe, but desperation can be a powerful persuader.

Offering monetary handouts therefore only serves to maximise the problem and create monsters. People who have changed their lifestyles based on the fruits of corruption will obviously want to continue living that way. People who cannot afford to pay for services can find themselves not being attended to in a timely manner as they are continually pushed back to make way for the person who can.

There are many instances where a person has gone beyond the call of duty in providing a service or has done it so well that we feel we ought to reward them; a small gift or a word to their supervisor/manager would work best here. There is nothing wrong with wanting to help out people whose financial circumstances are grave. But our duty as responsible citizens is to pay our taxes and bills promptly in order that the government and the various utility and service companies could continue to function effectively.