Thursday, 1 October 2009

Another Day/Another Dollar

"Чим платити?" written on the billing invoice above is in Ukrainian. Although I don't speak it, the language itself is very similar to Russian, and I'm pretty sure it means "What are we paying for?" considering the article I nicked it from is about tariffs in Kiev.

It applies to my post rather neatly as , when I examined my own utility bill - known as "коммунальные услуги" (kommunaliye ooslooghee lit. "communal services") in Russian - there exists (next to the usual electricity, gas, central heating, telephone and hot water) the entry "радио" (lit. radio).

I was puzzled at first what this radio entry meant. Was it something to do with owning an actual radio like a TV license in the UK? I was mildly pissed off at first, considering I didn't have a radio initially, though I then bought a CD/MP3/Radio combo thing (which has since turned out to be a total piece of shit, prompting me to spend some 30,000 roubles - approx. 600 quid - in total on a desktop computer, but the radio still works) meaning I didn't really have any legal ground to stand on. And it's only about 38 roubles a month anyway - just over a dollar at the current exchange rate, or about 80 pence - and I don't handle my bills either (all inclusive in the rent), so I just forgot about it. Until a week ago.

In my monthly shelling out of rent to my (genuinely helpful) landlord and former engineer Giorgy, I handed over the usual scrap of paper that this time round had been obnoxiously stuck into my door handle - a technique usually reserved for pizza delivery employees - rather than slotted into my post box and, out of curiosity, asked what this radio payment actually was.

Turns out this "radio" is a leftover of mid-Soviet times, whereby nearly every apartment in built-up cities were equipped with essentially a direct line to the police for purposes of either asking for assistance, or informing on your dissident liberal neighbors. When Giorgy bought the actual flat back in the 80s, it was no longer there, yet it was still coming in on the utility bill (though back then all sorts of stuff was subsidized by the state).

So what's the big deal with this radio thing anyway? Well, put it this way: there are about 15 million people living in Moscow (legally, the actual number is higher). Granted there are not 15 million households, so let's say there are about four people on average to each residence, give or take an extra million depending on who has actually applied to get the radio thing taken off their bill. That leaves us with... umm... 3 million or so. So that's 3 million dollars a month to the state for a redundant service. Nice way to line the coffers, eh?

I don't think it's so much a case of corruption, more a catastrophic example of no one wanting to deal with the bureaucracy of the matter, so it will take nothing short of a violent coup to remove the damn thing for good.

One more thing to note on the bill, which is far less obvious as maybe not many people can actually visualize it, is not the cost of the hot water, but the actual amount you're paying for. The set amount per household (or flat, more accurately) is something like 5-6 cubic meters a month for just the hot water alone. I can't really visualize it either, but according to Giorgy (again, engineer, so he knows these things) it's an enormous amount, almost 3 or 4 times than the amount you'll ever use.

The upshot is Giorgy is endeavoring to adjust the tariffs appropriately using some sort of device for the hot water, but of course that means filling out several forms and asking some guy to come around with a meter and examine everything, then fill out some more forms.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating as always. Sorry I don't have anything more relevant to add!