“In my 50-60 years, I have never heard so much corruption in my land as in the last few days… People are stealing money as though they invented it. It seems almost as though the rich have taken a vow to thief, thief, thief…”
Ambassador Makandal Daaga, the then leader of the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC) and governing coalition member.
In this statement, Daaga showed more moral clarity than did Ancel Roget of the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM), who challenged the nation with these words:
“The demographics in that, that some people do not like to hear, the majority of persons that we know, we see committing those crimes are young black men, they don’t like to hear it but let me say it because I am not afraid to say it.”
In its report, the Guardian newspaper helpfully added context by quoting the Aranguez pundit:
“[…] ‘Urban youth’ along the East-West corridor were targeting people of East Indian descent in Aranguez, San Juan, and across the country. The perpetrators of crime… all have the same complexion; they all come from the same ethnic group.”
The Sunday Express pointed to the Reform Hindu School woes as if on cue. Within the first year of winning the 2010 general elections, the People’s Partnership Government rolled out a multi-million-dollar plan to construct nearly 100 Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) centres primary and secondary schools and upgrade existing ones.
Minister Colm Imbert said $700 million later: “The previous administration did not give us 100 schools. We were given 100 construction projects…”
But who does the Express ask about the $700 million? Not the then Minister of Education but attempts to reach the present one. The vocal MP, Rodney Charles, claimed victimisation by the current government but did not explain his then colleague’s failures.
The Reform school was started in April 2014 and was expected to take ten months. This timeline meant it should have been completed before the September 2015 elections. The present administration should explain why this incomplete school was not addressed.
However, the Express article reported that in 2020, former Minister Anthony Garcia described a flurry of contracts between March 2015 and September 2015, contributing to a nearly $3 billion financial commitment. Some made millions. Small children suffer.
This story triggered memories of ongoing corruption in our successive administrations. Yet, we blame the ‘little black boys’ for crimes.
We can trace from the story of Gene Miles to the current day, including the DC9 scandal involving leading PNM lights. CL Financial and its precursor purchase of the shares held by the TTEC pension funds are milestones.
Millions were made—the small man was robbed of potential gain. Section 34 and the shenanigans of Marlene McDonald and our ladies on either side of the aisle with their misuse of public funds via credit cards. The $26,000 massage chair that was paid for by TTEC.
What we know is that no ‘urban youth’ was involved. We can speak about the tenderpreneurs who surface around elections, including at the Tobago House of Assembly.
Remember the pumpkin story? Now, we are asked to believe that wannabe road-building companies are hiding among us.
White-collar misdeeds are supported by highly-paid lawyers who argue at every turn. Think of the length of time to bring these cases to court. Think about the protracted appeals. Luta’s Law and Order calypso is apt.
“[…] There is no truth in Justice,/ no Justice in the Law/ The system works for the rich/ But it holds no hope for the poor!/
“The fact is that Law and Justice are two separate entities/ So is constant chaos and fighting between these two legal enemies/ Big shot coat tail men have no problem/ Because they big shot friend could recommend them./
“Between you and I/ They living a lie/ The Jacket and Tie is just mamaguy!”
But our children are turned into bandits to remain in the Remand Yard. Two in every three prisoners are on remand. Persons can spend over ten years waiting.
If you believe that corporate wrongdoings are victimless, try telling the families of the divers or CLICO policyholders or explain this to fishermen who had their nets damaged because of pollution. Or ask the many women who suffer sexual harassment on the job.
Singing Sandra immortalised their plight, urging them to die with their dignity.
The tragedy is that some cannot do that because their little pickney must eat. We rebuke single mothers, but they form the backbone of the service industry and our factories. How much can they do when they return home from a shift?
This leads to the root of crime in many deprived areas, where guns and drugs are passed on for quick money by transnational and other elites. Urban youth cannot afford those types of weapons.
No ‘urban youth’ can create the schemes to defraud the national treasury we see in court. Listen to Justice Ricky Rahim:
“No other intention is apparent on the evidence, and this remains the sole reasonable inference of intention to be drawn having regard to the fact that the sums claimed have since been shown to be much more than that which obtained under the original award and which would have been reasonably claimable for new work even at new prices as set out.
“This issue has been scrutinised by this court and has caused much disquiet as there appears on the evidence to be a lurking suspicion of agreement.”
The sum clawed back was almost TT$873 million! There is another associated $200 million case waiting for final judgment.
White-collar crime is “a violation of the criminal law by a person of the upper socio-economic class in the course of his occupational activity” (Sutherland 1941, p. 112).
Dylan Kerrigan wrote: “…many convicted white-collar criminals exhibit behavioural traits and criminal thinking qualities similar to those of violent, street-level criminals. These traits include narcissism, antisocial personality disorder, and psychopathy.”
He continued: “They purposefully deceive and rely on a perception of criminality as stemming from street criminals who supposedly are uneducated, rude, ill-mannered, and unstable.
“[…] This makes a white-collar criminal invisible even when standing right before you, being fraudulent. Fraud, corruption and money laundering–or lying, cheating and stealing—do have violent consequences—from actual person-on-person violence to the socio-economic violence done to people’s life chances.”
Kerrigan asserts: “Then there’s the fact that the total financial cost of white-collar crime massively exceeds the cost of street crime and that we are far more likely to be a victim of the former than the latter. And, of course, the social consequences of massive financial crimes destabilise society, stretch the divide between rich and poor, and damage societal harmony by undermining economic development.
“What’s more is if the white-collar activity is fraud and money laundering for criminal organisations, a white-collar criminal is directly supporting and encouraging the violence of street-level crime.
“Lastly, white-collar crimes also do violence to people’s life chances by denying people opportunities and resources they might otherwise have access to.”
Mr Roget and those of his ilk should remove their blinkers.
The media needs to be able to discern those who rob our society and call them to task. Their job must be to explode: “…the myths about white-collar crime and criminals that circulate in society and popular culture make us misperceive these dangers and the destructive consequences of white-collar criminality.”
We, the voters, must remember Daaga’s 2011 words: “The establishment has not changed… It has merely replaced one for the other.”
We should not be fooled.