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Garth Rattray | Fraud is a symptom of an ailing society

Published:Monday | January 30, 2023 | 12:11 AM
Stocks and Securities Limited offices on Hope Road, St Andrew.
Stocks and Securities Limited offices on Hope Road, St Andrew.

The recent and still unfolding investment company’s disgraceful and shocking fraudulent activity is having a very negative impact on our citizens. It is bad enough that it happened. But, it is sad and embarrassing that it affected one of our country’s international icons, someone who has left his mark on this planet, whose hard work and sacrifice put our name in every corner of the world, whose celebrity status enhanced our vital tourism product, whose patriotism and love of his Jamaican people led him to invest here. The confidence and trust that he put in his [beloved] country has been betrayed.

There are several concurrent fraudulent cases emerging, and there have always been fraud committed within institutions that are entrusted with taking care of, or managing other people’s money. It’s as if the perpetrators cannot help themselves once they have any kind of access to the hard-earned savings of others.

Shameful too is the failure of the organisation that was mandated to oversee and closely monitor the activities of investment companies; obviously, its inaction, when needed, was ridiculous. There is a persistent and pervasive lack of discipline, honesty, checks and balance, and accountability in Jamaica. Yet, sometimes the powers that be are overly and unnecessarily oppressive, for the wrong reasons and towards the wrong people.

I vividly recall my wife and I needing to transfer sums of money out of a special saving’s account that we had for over 30 years to a branch of the same bank in Ocho Rios. The rigmarole, signing, countersigning, multiple signing by several bank employees, and verifications were mesmerising. They blamed it all on the Money Laundering Act … even though we were accessing our own funds from an account within that bank and branch!

And, more recently, when we attempted to access some of our matured funds from an existing life insurance policy, the same Money Laundering Act stood in our way. This insurance company was the source of the funds that have been sitting there and accruing interest, yet we were asked to sign prepared documents, pertaining to the Act, to prove our source of the income!

PERPLEXING QUESTION

It therefore begs the perplexing question, how is it that, under these very austere rules and regulations, fraudsters are repeatedly capable of easily accessing, manipulating and draining the funds belonging to their clients? Doesn’t the Money Laundering Act protect us from others simply removing large sums of our money without declaring their ‘source of income’? How come there is no rigmarole, signing, countersigning, multiple signing by several employees, and verifications when dem ah go tief fi wi money? Try as I might, I just can’t understand.

In Jamaica, customers, clients, or whatever, of large concerns have been fleeced and victimised for years. Outright raiding of savings and investment accounts represent an additional version of the abuse that we have had to endure. I remember the early days of cellular telephones in Jamaica; we had to pay for outgoing and incoming calls, and the rates were set in stone. As soon as competition arrived, things changed in favour of the consumers. Whenever there are large and powerful monopolies, especially those with significant international interests (shareholders), there is an exploitative, take-it-or-leave-it attitude. To them, we are all helpless and ripe for the picking.

The regular banks charge a fee for everything. I recently learned that at least one bank decided not to return cheques with tiny errors of the written sum; even in the order of a few cents, but will go ahead and process the cheque and punitively charge the depositor over a $1,000, and the issuer over $2,000! The minuscule interest on our regular savings is effectively less than nothing because the spending power of our dollar falls precipitously year after year. Yet, the disparity between the interest on savings and the interest on loans, the ‘spread’, remains phenomenal.

EVERYTHING GOES

It has always been my opinion that, in a country where anything goes, everything goes. This boldness, this feeling of the right to do whatever they please to us, comes from living in a society where anything goes. We see rampant indiscipline, permissiveness, and corruption everywhere and every day. When indiscipline, imminent danger, and chaos rule our roadways, when government entities can [for whatever reason/s] turn a blind eye to flagrant building breaches, institutionalised inefficiencies, corruption, and blatant irregularities that adversely affect citizens, we cannot expect individuals to behave with integrity. In an environment, such as ours, criminal-minded citizens will choose to operate within the established ‘norms’ of corruption and lack of repercussions or accountability.

I visited a very rich Middle Eastern country recently and learned that the only time that crime reared its ugly head was at the height of the pandemic when life became challenging for many. Bank frauds began to emerge temporarily. When people experience desperation or greed, some seek their individual paths of least resistance. For some, that path is getting someone to support them by whatever means; for some, it’s criminal gang activities that involve deadly violence; for some it’s scamming; for some it’s corrupt practices facilitated through their jobs or connections; and for others it’s fraudulent activities involving other people’s money.

Our entire society is ailing; we need to fight [all] crime holistically by establishing discipline and accountability across the board.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.