Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Daniel Thwaites | Crash Plus: beatings will continue!

Published:Sunday | May 28, 2017 | 5:00 AM

These days, the longstanding expectation that prisoners would be put to work for society's benefit has been basically outlawed, and so, being idle, jailbirds tend to have a lot of time for exercise, to catch up on the latest news, and for deep contemplation.

This is why I imagine David Smith of Olint notoriety looking at the news emanating from Jamaica with stunned disbelief and bitterness and thinking: "If mi did ongle kip mi ting inna Jamaica, mi woulda deh ah road right now ah jink rum, becaw nuhbaddy couldn't chuvvle mi desso!"

And, of course, he would be entirely correct.

The inescapable deduction from the Crown's collapsed nine-year-old case against Crash Plus' Carlos Hill is that Smith's great error was to involve Americans in his unregulated financial scheme. That error triggered the involvement of a prosecutorial apparatus and justice system that, however many its considerable flaws, seems geared towards protecting the public from outright shysters.

 

THE INJUSTICE SYSTEM

 

However, the Jamaican injustice system has made it very clear that the jurisdiction is a safe haven for bandits.

Well, I should add nuance. Although farmers are at the mercy of praedial thieves, and although you've put yourself in considerable danger if you own a fruitful mango tree, the system does seem to occasionally and haphazardly rouse itself into denunciatory fury when it captures some petty criminals.

The sheer arbitrariness of it can astonish, and that's why it is now a commonplace to contrast the ackee thief who got no mercy to the billion-dollar swindlers who get nothing but.

By and by, the picture of Mr Hill taking off as a free man from the court precincts in a mere taxi was another piece of his marketing genius. A less accomplished impresario would have been whisked away in one of those new Porches or a Range, and had he done that, one could be reasonably certain that Crash Plus was gone for good. But the taxi, when coupled with the televised threat that he will be concentrating on repaying investors, would lead one to believe that this train is still in motion.

So how did we get here?

The DPP, once again showering itself in glory, has taken the opportunity to lecture the citizenry that convictions aren't secured by "waving a magic wand", but actually require witnesses prepared to give evidence.

When The Gleaner reports that "the DPP says the collapse of the Cash Plus case is a teachable lesson to Jamaicans that they should participate in the justice system", it reminds me of the saying often attributed to Captain Bligh of HMS Bounty: "The beatings will continue until morale improves."

Furthermore, it's hard to square the voluntary presence of victims at the courthouse, and the palpable public anger, with the DPP's statement that people aren't willing to come forward. Was notice ever given to the public that fresh witnesses were needed? That the case was in danger of collapsing?

And what about the charges that were brought? The Gleaner published a helpful timeline that charted the State's belated attempts to slow Mr Hill down. Was there no charge where the State would have been the complainant?

Perhaps I'm wrong to say that it's only about incompetence and not also about major corruption. Because when you think about it, it's systemic corruption why there isn't public disclosure of which politicians and other leaders were invested in Olint and Cash Plus, and which, if any, got paid out.

Either way, there's no getting around it: the failure of the Jamaican State to successfully prosecute any of the multiple Ponzi schemes that sprang up with the new millennium is a massive societal failure. Thousands have lost their pants and shirts and blouse and skirts. And all the authorities say to them: "Better luck next time."

That failure certainly goes beyond the DPP. It is an indictment against our political class, and maybe even against our capacity to successfully self-govern. There are a few politicians smart enough to know it's their job to protect the citizenry from this sort of financial rapine, but our system conspires against them. And they, naturally, conspire against the system in return. How much, after all, was accepted by the parties and their candidates as donations from these schemes?

 

GLORIFIED SOCIAL WORKERS

 

Let's face it: MPs who, theoretically, should be patrolling our laws and regulations and regularly updating them are, in fact, glorified social workers. They are absorbed with back-to-school vouchers, Labour Day painting projects, and Easter bun distribution, far more than with seeing to it that the financial system is protected from scammers and scallywags. Dem nuh have nuh time fi dat!

The explosion of alternative investment schemes happened a mere decade after the wholesale financial collapse known as FINSAC. In other words, a whole decade after a complete meltdown, the legal architecture was still such that the BOJ and FSC weren't sure if they had jurisdiction, and Mr Hill's clever lawyers remind us with a twinkle that he was merely "taking loans".

Although I'm one who was happy that the IMF brought some adult supervision to our decision-making, I still imagine how glorious it might be if our governments cared about protecting the citizenry as much as they care about keeping the IMF happy. Who knows? Morale might improve!

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.