According to the Canadian cartoonist, Lynn Johnston, “Complaining is good for you as long as you’re not complaining to the person you’re complaining about”. If that is so, then I think this article is as good as useless. But I will not stop. I will complain, even though you are highly likely to be the person I am complaining about.
My complaint today is about one of those things we all do every day. And because it has become so much a part of us, a part of us it has remained. It is a manifestation of one hell of a hate relationship we have with our country that normal, we think, this habit is. It is a habit or culture that costs us an unquantifiable amount of badly-needed funds that can be saved for the provision of basic social services.
I was driving home a couple of months ago and met one of my senior colleagues, Martin Mondeh who works at the Decentralisation Secretariat. He was waiting for a public transport along Pademba Road, heading home. I stopped to give him a ride. As I usually see him in his official car I asked: “Where is your car?” And his reply was stunning. “I do not take it home” he said, “I park it at the office and go home on public transport.”
Sometime last year, a public vehicle assigned to Mrs Bernadette Cole of the Independent Media Commission, disappeared from its Youyi Building car park. In the course of my investigating the disappearance, it emerged that Mrs Cole would always instruct that the car be taken to the park once she had been dropped off at home. On weekends, excepting if she has an official function the car must remain in the park until Monday.
How many public officials are this much discipline with public property, especially vehicles? But just what is public property? According to Wikipedia it is “property which is owned by a government or community”. In other words, it is owned by the people.
Four Sundays now, I have been visiting weekend spots; night clubs and churches. In this time, I have counted more than twenty state-owned vehicles parked outside churches and about seven outside night clubs, with the latter at very unholy hours. In some instances, I have seen the officials (among them ministers and senior civil servants) and their families crammed in these vehicles to and from church or shopping. Some use them to visit girlfriends in areas where the roads are terrible. Enslaving their drivers, ruining our resources.
Not just that. Some take them upcountry on very personal errands, not minding the consequences. Or they give stupid justifications for doing so. Who pays for the fuel the vehicle consumes? We the ordinary masses! Who fixes them when they break? The poor tax payer who hardly realises anything from their tax money.
Because the officials misbehave with the vehicles, in the face of the drivers or even using them to, the latter also do anything they feel like doing. They inflate the quantity of fuel the car consumes. And the officials cannot scold them. After all, the boss is as guilty.
It is heart-rending to see how senior police officers cram their families and friends in police vehicles driving past their junior officers who wait on the road for a Poda Poda to take them to work. When, as it is natural, they get to the office late, they are excoriated. Scandalous!
But this backward trend is not only confined to public officials and officers. We the ordinary people treat public property as if it is nobody’s property. It is commonplace to see people rip off seat covers in public buses. An attempt to correct them will leave you insulted, or even assaulted. Nor to you papa get am (it is not your father’s property) they will tell you. There were even reports last year that some people in the east of Freetown, for example, stoned public buses donated by Libya. Reason: they were painted green. We litter the streets and don’t bother to look back.
Visit public schools and see the reckless abandon. Go to private schools and feel the beauty kept inside them. There is nothing different in the people. Not the students, not the teachers! All the difference lies in the psyche. Because the former is public-owned, no-one cares.
With such attitude, our children can only grow up in an environment of bad influence. So that when they succeed their parents, they feel the bad thing is the normal thing to do. Those ministers and other public functionaries who steal do so because of the same attitude towards public property – not anybody’s.
This only breeds deprivation for the next generation. Imagine ripping off the seats in a public transport, those after you will only be left without a bus. Imagine ruining your official car as a public official, what will your successor use? Until we start using public property as our personal one property, our downward spiral will continue and we will continue begging other countries for such basic things as transportation. Until we start taking action against public officials who deprive us in more ways than one, we are doomed. “A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort.” Herm Albright. By Umaru Fofana