Phrase of the day: on the cheap

Some of you may have heard on the news this week that dozens of people were injured when a floor overlooking the main lobby of the Indonesian Stock Exchange building collapsed. You may even have seen the shocking video of a happy group of students and office workers who one minute were waiting for the lift, the next were falling into nothingness as the ground beneath them gave way. Incredibly, nobody seems to have died in the accident, though there are reports of at least 75 people being hurt, some seriously.

How could such a tragic accident happen? The first thought I had was that perhaps it was caused by a bomb. The building, which is also home to the offices of the British Council, was hit by Islamist militants in 2000, remains a prime target. However, officials soon ruled terrorism out. As I watched this story unfold with my wife, who is originally from the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, I noted grimly that the reconstruction work in the early 2000s must’ve been done on the cheap.

If something is done on the cheap, it’s never of the highest quality. Maybe the contractors who carry out the work skimp on materials and use the cheapest stuff they can find; in other words, they cut corners: do things in the cheapest, easiest and quickest ways, and ignore rules put in place to protect people. It’s exactly this kind of approach that led to the Grenfell Tower fire that killed so many people in London last summer.

Of course, building work is always subject to inspections, but in many parts of the world, there are ways round these complications. Someone can be slipped a backhandergiven a bribe, an amount of money paid to someone in power to ensure they do what you want them to do. Some of the money saved on construction costs can be ‘reinvested’ in paying off corrupt officials.

Now, of course, at the moment we have no idea why the accident in Jakarta happened, so this is all just speculation. The truth will hopefully come out in the fullness of time. As with Grenfell here in London, one hopes that any guilty parties are brought to justice and people are held accountable for their actions. However, given how common official cover-ups are around the world, it’s hard to feel too optimistic. Time will tell, I suppose, but in the meantime, my thoughts and sympathies are with the victims, as always.

By the way, on the cheap isn’t always negative. While many things done on the cheap are examples of shoddy workmanship, there are also countless books written to help tourists on a tight budget – travelling without much money – do Europe (or South-East Asia or Latin America) on the cheap. You can pick things up on the cheap if you know where to look. You can eat on the cheap if you do your research and find out in advance which places offer best value for money

How do we know all this? Well, as teachers living in one of the most expensive cities in the world, we’re both experts at doing all of these things ourselves!

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  • Can you think of any stories of accidents caused by things having been done on the cheap?
  • Is it common where you live for officials to take backhanders? In what situations? is it getting better or worse?
  • Do you ever cut corners? If so, when?
  • Have you any other news stories recently about tragic accidents? What happened? What caused them?
  • Can you think of anything that was covered up by officials?
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