Dr Richard Van West-Charles and I have a fond acquaintance. Many thought he would have run for high office after the death of his late father-in-law and first executive President Linden FS Burnham. But Dr Richard is a noble gentleman who has no illusions about Guyana’s political realities. Notwithstanding his reservations, Dr Richard’s capability was recognized by the incumbent administration and he was appointed Head of the Guyana Water Incorporated (GWI). I believe he is trying to do his best with what he inherited. Parts of that inheritance are incompetence and mismanagement.
I usually pay the water bill for an aged relative. The GWI account number is 1013389. In June I paid $6,050. An amount of $6,048 was stated on the bill as the total due for June. It was later acknowledged by GWI staff that the bill was an estimated one and that the actual charge should have been for $4,048. GWI did not offer a refund, but said the overpayment of $2,002 would be rolled over to the July bill. The July bill came, with a current charge for $971. It therefore means that an overpayment difference of $1,031 should have been reflected. Amazingly, the July bill reflects an overpayment of a mere $2. Only God knows where the remaining $1,029 went. I intend to query the July bill. That means I have to take time off again from my job to help somebody do their job of simple maths. Maybe something is wrong with the computer program too. My visit to query the obvious discrepancy will cost me downtime and transportation, since these types of queries invariably get nowhere over the phone. While a thousand dollars is lunch money for many, it can purchase a few days’ vegetables for most households.
Imagine someone who lives out of central Georgetown having to deal with a matter like this. Someone who wasn’t fortunate to go very far in school; someone who lacks the ability to do simple addition and subtraction would be at the mercy of institutionalised malpractices and error. They would lose their money, right before their eyes. Many Guyanese have woeful tales of discrepancies and overbilling by utility companies. Estimated charges are the hallmark. Even more frustrating, in many instances, is the hoodwinking one receives as imposed panacea or deflection from the rip-offs by these utilities. Their defence teams are led by lofty clerks, some of whom simply go to work to clock hours or post selfies on Facebook and Instagram.
Most of my compositions highlight indiscreet realities faced by Guyanese, especially common folk. Negli-gence or incompetence leading to the aforementioned discrepancy when multiplied institutionally causes thousands of people to feel frustrated, disillusioned and often ends up with central government bearing the brunt of blame. Sometimes too, people like me have to bear the brunt of frustrations others feel because of failing systems or practices.
The level of mistakes and incompetence experienced locally is completely unacceptable. It is unacceptable for utilities to be making fundamental errors, particularly when there is generally no easy compensatory mechanism for the associated inconvenience and costs they create for the average consumer, outside of the Public Utilities Commission or court. Consumer advocacy is virtually dead.
I have carefully attempted to make a clear distinction between the GWI Head and the billing department. I will not be presumptuous and blame him for the obvious misrepresentation of his efforts. During the era of Dr Richard Van West Charles’ father-in-law’s reign, repeated issues like these would have led to someone being fired or demoted. However, Burnham was labelled a dictatorial tyrant for his firm stance against the type of incompetence that now overshadows Guyana.
I keep hearing whispers in various circles about “if it was in Burnham days”. But as the old adage goes, you never miss the water till the well runs dry!