Human resources are wasted on the Essequibo Coast Consumer Concerns
By Eileen Cox
Stabroek News
February 10, 2002

A chance meeting, a telephone call, an e-mail message, a smile, so often changes a blue, blue day into a golden, happy adventure. There is again joy in the world and hope. We can then sing with Robert Browing's Pippa. "God's in His heaven- All's well with the world!" So it happened with me one evening last week. An unexpected call from the Essequibo Cost changed my world. I was congratulated for my unceasing fight to bring justice to consumers in their struggle to prevent GT&T from overpowering the country. A signature letter supporting the work of the two consumer organisations was promised. The telephone instrument was passed to another consumer and before one could say Jack Robinson I was committing myself to travel to the Essequibo Coast for the weekend.

For two years I had not visited my friends on the Essequibo Coast. With an injured leg it was a bit of a hazard to jump into a speedboat. I am now anxious about speedboats so the streamer was the choice for the journey. This resulted in a long wait at the Parika stelling on Friday afternoon and a tiresome four-hour journey on the Malali.

At 10:00am on Saturday there is a meeting at Vilvoorden summoned by Angela. It was Angela who first invited me to the Essequibo Coast way back in 1994. Today we are more sophisticated and the participants are more worldly-wise. Most participants at the meeting are women with some children and a few men. I explain the problems with GT&T and GPL. A short letter is drafted and all sign supporting the efforts of the Guyana Consumers' Association and the Consumers' Advisory Bureau to address consumer concerns about GT&T and expressing full confidence in the submissions of Mr Joseph Tyndall. So often these submissions seem to be without any explanation as to the reason for dismissing them. Later, the complaints come in. A widow uses an electric bulb from 6:00pm to 7:30pm each night and is billed for 207 units with a total claim for $6,158. The previous month she was billed for $6,861 so the total amount claimed by GPL is now $13,019. This for a penniless person who fears disconnection, with an additional charge of $2,700 for reconnection can result in sleepless nights.

Another widow brings a bill claiming $5,869 for consuming 216 units. She has a four-ft. fluorescent light with no electrical appliances. She, too, is disturbed by the thought of disconnection.

Consumers there, and in Georgetown complain bitterly about the estimated bills. When the Guyana Electricity Corporation first indicated that it would resort to estimated bills, the Guyana Consumers' Association strongly condemned the move and eventually agreed that an estimated bill should be immediately followed by a reading. It is not fair to consumers for the electricity company to estimate month after month and then present the customer with a huge bill that must be paid in two weeks or else! GPL is still charging a community centre in Essequibo built by self-help, at the business rate in spite of several appeals to apply the residential rate to this building.

The GT&T and Post Offices did not go unscathed. A customer received his August bill late and immediately paid $3,600 to Suddie Post Office, leaving a balance of $1. That was on August 22. His bill dated September 1, recorded that $4,263 was owing. Having already paid $3,600, the customer paid $700 to the Aurora Post Office. On January 2, 2002 the customer is still being charged an additional $3,000 as arrears. The customer was disconnected and again paid for reconnection. How is he to have this matter settled?

A consumer complains that she purchased a Guyana Airways 2000 ticket before May 2001. She took her ticket into the Guyana Airways 2000 Canadian office. The clerk kept her ticket and gave her a photocopy of it. The photocopy was not accepted for her return flight and she paid the sum of $11,069. To date, she cannot receive a refund of that sum of money.

There are general complaints about the quality of water being delivered in the region. It is red in colour and stains kitchen utensils and toilet bowls. Many times it is not deemed fit for drinking and some persons, without rainwater tanks, say they have to resort to trench water. Yet the water rate has been increased for 2002.

It was heartening to note that consumers are becoming wise about financial matters. One consumer purchased a stove from a store when she saw the cash price as $37,000. On arriving home, she read the hire purchase agreement and saw that the total price would be around $99,000. "Oh no," she said "This is not for me." She asked the suppliers to collect the stove from her home.

Human resources are being wasted on the Essequibo Coast. Housewives have little to do once meals have been prepared and the house cleaned. Some used to keep gardens in front of their homes. Now the council has ordered them to destroy their gardens. The parapets will then return to bush - a fit place for breeding mosquitoes. The council does nothing in the many empty plots and along the parapets, which are overgrown with bush.

There is no cinema in the area, no library, no playing field that I could see, few newspapers. Women's groups are re-assembling. The National Democratic Institute has plans for training women for local government but with the necessity of joining a political party, women see little prospect of improving conditions in their environment.

And, however, bad it may be on the coast, there are pockets where conditions are far worse. The settlements are not easily accessible. In one small settlement children had no clothes to wear to school. Angela's husband is now the teacher in that settlement and they are soliciting assistance. Let us hope that someone's heart will be touched.