Christopher Pryce | The stain of bankruptcy
As Jamaicans, we are all very encouraged by the signs that there is an increasing maturity in the public and political management of the country's macroeconomic affairs.
Even so, there are perhaps signs that in significant structural ways, this projected growth has an exaggerated asymmetry with regard to segments and demographics being left out.
A very public and disturbing revelation of this state of affairs comes to us courtesy of wider access to information in the public domain and the emergence of more progressive consumer regulations, such as the Credit Reporting Act of Jamaica.
More to the point, access to, and use of, credit-reporting schemes, access to public records at state agencies such as the Companies Office of Jamaica, when triangulated with the metrics produced by the supervisor of insolvency, point to an increasing number and widening demographic of entities and persons filing for bankruptcy in Jamaica.
Bankruptcy is still a bad word in Jamaica, at least for the person if less so for a body corporate. But for persons to bring themselves to bankruptcy, or be forced to have themselves declared a bankrupt, must be the closest step to dark despair and utter hopelessness.
Indeed, we exist in a society wherein image is important, and lifestyle and quality of life are determined or influenced by the amount of money we have or earn or have access to. So when bankruptcy comes, the bankrupt's self-worth and identity remain tied to, and magnified by, their negative and despairing financial circumstances.
Who are the persons declaring bankruptcy in Jamaica? Housewives, small business people and all across the demographic spectrum. But a shocking new demographic is emerging that demands urgent exploration in the public interest: police constables! Information from records at the Office of the Government Trustee will confirm this fact.
Supposing that a constable is usually aged under 35, if we agree that the constable is at the most junior end of the seniority spectrum, can we imagine the turmoil for such a bankrupt constable?
Let us imagine it. If the constable remains a member of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), what kind of life can he lead, considering that his remuneration is quite meagre as it is? Is his salary subject to garnishment and, if so, how then can he live? More important, how then can they serve, protect and reassure?
To be clear, if any person, including a member of the JCF, takes a calculated or a foolish risk, or gets involved in an enterprise that goes so badly to the extent that bankruptcy overtakes them, he or she has my sympathy and, perhaps, my understanding.
But what comes next? Do we have sufficient NGOs and social-work interventions to assist these persons to not slide into bankruptcy in the first instance, or to even help guide and counsel them out of it?
If one is an undischarged bankrupt, you are cut off from several opportunities that would be available to persons who are not a declared bankrupt. Access to basic banking and financial services, access to reasonable consumer financing, and the simple but necessary basics of life become close to non-existent. So desperation may usher one to seek credit from entities that are either unregulated, illegal or nefarious, thereby com-pounding one's dilemma.
How, then, can a police constable remain an effective and fully performing law officer while being a declared bankrupt? This should be a matter of concern for the Police High Command and, indeed, for the minister.
It is said that a rising tide lifts all boats, and this phrase is often transferred to discussions that seek to address improvements in the economy and the drive to prosperity at the level of the firm and the individual. But there is a dark cloud abroad in Jamaica if the number and demographic of persons declaring bankruptcy continues at the current pace as reported by the Office of the Government Trustee.