Daniel Thwaites | So worth it: ‘Hundred Dollar Bag’
When Beenie Man released 'Hundred Dollar Bag' in 1999, on the Ants Nest riddim, no less, the clear message was that $100 was worth having and could buy you something enjoyable. Back then, he was talking about the high grade, but since then the dollar has degraded, and the trusty old Donald Sangster won't get you very much at all. It turns out, however, that $100 can spring you from custody.
To put this mammoth sum into perspective for those overseas, and for every Jamaican whose dollar will further devalue after the promised 'tax relief' has soured into 'chikini' tax reform, J$100 is now worth 77 US cents, 0.73 euro, British PS0.60, CDN$1.05, and it will be going down further. Which brings us to the priceless story of the moment.
Alleged gangster Tesha Miller, in a bit of an ants' nest at the time, was fined a mere $100 by Jamaica's crack justice system. The Gleaner reports, in one of the most satisfying pieces of newspaper copy I've read in many moons:
"The sentence was handed down by Parish Judge Sancia Burrell in the Kingston and St Andrew Parish Court this afternoon.
"'I hope you are prepared to satisfy the maximum fine and I hope you are able to call a relative or family member to help you if you can't manage it,' Burrell said before imposing the fine."
The maximum fine was $100. So it is the "if you can't manage" part mi jus' luv. DWL! I are weak. Is me cyaaan manage!
Credit to Judge Burrell, the originator of this brilliance, and also to Livern Barrett, senior Gleaner writer who faithfully reported it, for jointly and efficiently delivering this slice of jollification so nicely packaged.
Now the wise think long and hard before disagreeing with the editorial voice of The Gleaner. But occasionally it must be challenged. "Next time! Next time!" said Joshua. Well, well, well! Maybe that next time is here!
Consider the following editorial rumination by the Gleaner on this same $100 Tesha bag:
"That Tesha Miller, dubbed by the Jamaican police as a dangerous gang lord, has been fined a measly $100 is hardly a laughing matter. Mr Miller was fined on Tuesday after pleading guilty to one count of making a false declaration on an immigration document.
"The issue of ridiculously low fines on the books is nothing new. Indeed, the State would find that it expends hundreds of thousands of dollars in resources to prosecute cases with negligible penalties. When the breaching of immigration law is so inconsequential, such fines incentivise the breaking of statutes and engender a culture of impunity."
OK, so maybe this isn't exactly 'next time!', but I do have an issue with the editorial's tone of seriousness. Because it IS a laughing matter. What else could it possibly be?
If you tell somebody the same thing 99 times and they ignore you, what's the likelihood of them paying you heed the hundredth time? The inescapable conclusion is that the legislative arm of Jamaica is unable, or unwilling, to take some simple steps to routinely update its regime of penalties.
Ace attorney Harold Brady was fined a colossal $500 for foregoing giving testimony at the commission of enquiry and Danville Walker must find the crippling sum of $5,000 for breaching the Contractor General Act. I wonder if he can manage?
At other times, the justice system doesn't even seem like it's bothered to punish. I don't know what the fine is for cursing, but it's probably just a few shillings, at least in 13 parishes. In St Thomas, though, yuh might get a shat in yuh bum**cl**t. And what is the fine for shooting a pregnant smaddy? The lawyer fee! Another big win for the justice system.
To me, it's just as important to monitor how the justice system deals with these huge sums it collects. Like, how much is it for a used car nowadays? While we're at it, and just to answer a question going around, I can't see why a deportee convicted for narcotics and related offences should be barred from getting large contracts from the Ministry of National Security. In fact, why not hand over a telecommunications licence to them while you're at it? If there are any problems, we just charge dem $100 and hustle along.
The authorities have made no secret in telegraphing to the Jamaican public that they consider Mr Miller one of the most dangerous men around. We are constantly reminded that he is the reputed, alleged, suspected, so-called, assumed, apparent, purported, and fabled leader of the Clansman Gang. That identification has an effect on the public, and on public confidence in the nation's institutions.
Fans of the Lion King, which I've watched 3,147 times with my children, will recall the scene where one of the jackals simply says "Mufasa" and the other jackal breaks out into uncontrollable shivers. Similarly, I have an acquaintance from Spanish Town who never suffers constipation regardless of his diet, because he only needs someone to say "Tesha! Tesha! Tesha!" and he's fully and immediately functional. That's the fear Mufasa commands.
Look here, mobster Al Capone was famously brought to heel and sent to Alcatraz not directly for gangsterism, but by the tax authorities. He hadn't filed properly, so they threw the book at him. The idea was, I suppose, that if you're frustrating the lawmen, the Feds will be sure to punish any lawbreaking to the fullest extent.
It's no different here. That's why the judge nailed Tesha with the maximum fine. I'm sure it's boosting morale in the JCF and reminding them that they labour not in vain. That's right! We better keep laughing.
- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.