After six years of “running back and forth”, 38-year-old Raja Singh says he is anxiously awaiting a call from the Ministry of Education that would inform him when he can collect the $130,000 owed to him for the weeding he has done at three Georgetown schools since December 2007.
Following a letter in this newspaper on October 22 written by GHK Lall on behalf of Singh, the Ministry of Education through its Public Relations Officer Suelle Findlay-Williams admitted that Singh is indeed owed the money and expressed “unreserved and unqualified apology for this error…
“The ministry believes this is unacceptable and hopes that in the carrying out of their duties officers are going to be conscious and proactive in ensuring persons who kindly render their services are paid in a timely manner. Nothing less would be tolerated.
“The ministry is making every effort at this time to ensure that Mr Singh receives the payment due to him in a few days’ time,” Findlay-Williams said in the letter published in this newspaper on October 24.
Speaking to the Sunday Stabroek on Thursday, Singh said he is anxious to be contacted by ministry officials. And he said even though the payment is long overdue he still wants to thank Minister of Education Priya Manickchand for finally acting on the situation.
“I is a poor man, and all I want is my payment right now,” the man maintained while noting he was yet to be contacted by the ministry.
He said he was also concerned over the fact that the ministry responded almost immediately to the letter by Lall yet one he wrote five months ago—which was published in the May 11 edition of this newspaper-where he outlined his plight of not receiving payment is yet to be acknowledged. This newspaper had sent a copy of that letter to Permanent Secretary Delma Nedd for a response. No reply was received by this newspaper.
“So you see the small man is nowhere. I want to thank Mr Lall for listening to this small man and writing the letter because it now seem like I will get paid,” the still frustrated man said.
He chronicled to this newspaper the many times he visited the ministry’s Brickdam office and the many persons he would have spoken to. He said while he never met Minister Manickchand he visited her office on several occasions and spoke to her secretary.
The father of three said on all occasions he was told the minister was busy, out of the country or of the office. He said he wrote letters and left them with the secretary and asked that she deliver same to the minister. He surmised that they may have never reached the minister.
However, he pointed out that the minister should have become aware of his plight from his May 11 letter since even if she had not seen it, one of her officers should have brought it to her attention.
In one of the letters he wrote this year to the Permanent Secretary, Singh said, “PS – I am a poor, working citizen. I need this money. I earned it. Surely, you will agree that something is amiss when I have to wait over four years to collect payment. I am still waiting. Clearly, this should be unacceptable to you, as it is unacceptable to me.”
Explaining the process of receiving the contract to weed the schools, Singh said he had to go through a tender process at the ministry to be awarded the contract. He said he had been working with the ministry since 2002 and while prior to 2007 there were significant delays in receiving his payments it had never stretched into years. Following the
2007 fiasco he stopped working with the ministry.
Singh, who had served as a police constable for three years in his younger days, said that he received the contract to weed the Charlestown Secondary School twice, and the New Comenius Primary and Alexander Village Nursery schools once each. While he had estimated that he would have been paid $160,000, the ministry had later reduced the sum to $130,000.
When he initially approached the
ministry for payment he was told to return three months later since finance had not released the money.
“Since then every time I go back is all kind a thing I hearing…,” he recalled “And the first year end and then another year and so it go on.”
He said in 2009 he started to visit the office of then minister of education Shaik Baksh with whom he would have met several times. He said the minister would always say they are working on ensuring that he was paid. He said once he even took his oldest son, who has special needs, to the office and left him in the car and he started to scream.
“The minister ask me is who screaming because he could hear he screaming from upstairs and I tell he is me son who don’t like being left alone. I do all of that to try to show he that I really need the money,” Singh said.
He said another time he told the minister he really needed the money to take his sick mother to the hospital but this also did not result in him being paid. He said his mother subsequently died. Another appeal was made when his father was sick to no avail. His father also passed away.
Pillar to post
“They make I deh from pillar to post with jobs because I had to stop working,” he said revealing that right now he works with the Roman Catholic Church as a maintenance man and he also works with his relatives doing carpentry or other odd jobs.
“I is the sole breadwinner for my family, my wife home looking at our sick son and we have two children in school,” the man said.
He maintains that he would have visited the ministry over 100 times over the years, explaining that there are 52 weeks in a year and he works across from the ministry every Tuesday.
“So I use to just go across and check,” he said. “I would not say is every Tuesday I went because sometimes it was frustrating but I went many Tuesdays and still no money.”
The man named several officers of the ministry he would have spoken to and indicated at one time one of the officers told him he should just forget the money and move on. He said he told another that he would approach the media with the issue and the officer told him he has to do what he has to do.
Since he stopped working with the ministry, Singh said, he has sold his grass cutter.
“I just want know how could they could treat a person like me like this? A small man? You want to give people work but you not paying the people?” the man lamented.
“I thanking Mr Baksh for seeing me so many times but no thanks to you because you have not done anything to see I get paid. Thanks for nothing. I was talking to you but it was like throwing water on duck back. You talking to me nice but no money,” Singh said.
He said that a friend of his who also did work for the ministry and who also had difficulty receiving payment had indicated to him that he couldn’t make his hire-purchase payments and his furniture was repossessed.
“He tell me that the next day he went and cuss up and behave bad in front the ministry and the next day he get paid. I could have done that too, cuss up and behave bad but that is not me. I am working with the church. I just went to all the officers politely and ask for my money but still I didn’t get paid,” Singh said.
Meantime, Singh said since last year he has started helping people and he would receive items from the church and would go to various areas and share out, he goes as far as Number 69 Village in Berbice.
“That is my happiness right now and it give me peace. I want to improve my service to people. I want people to know that today is now to live in love and peace with each other because you never know what tomorrow will bring”, he said.