EDITORIAL - Ponzi schemes and party financing

Published: Monday | December 23, 2013 Comments 0

It has taken over half a decade for our policymakers and legislators to accomplish, and with a hefty shove from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

But hopefully, it will not be so easy in the future for people like David Smith and that other apparently dodgy investment scheme, Cash Plus Limited, to bilk Jamaicans of their money, mostly hard earned.

Our reference is to last week's passage by Parliament of substantial amendments to the Securities Act, which not only tighten up the management obligations of investment companies, but specifically making it illegal to operate Ponzi schemes. It also sets out specific criteria for the membership, and operation of, private investment clubs.

Had these been in place in the early half of the 2000s, damage caused by Mr Smith and his Olint Corporation and their satellite scams might have been cauterised much earlier, if not prevented. Mr Smith might not have established legal barriers to stop his operation and the intervening Cash Plus would not have needed a specific complaint of swindle.

In the end, their escapades, by some estimates, cost Jamaicans upwards of J$20 billion, although this is likely to be an undercount.

But as positive and laudatory as last week's parliamentary efforts are, they also serve to remind of other weaknesses in Jamaica's governance arrangements, about which we tend to talk a lot but not address with conviction.

The first is the state of our justice system, which is creakily slow and inefficient, causing people to lose faith in it.

While David Smith resides in an American jail for operating a Ponzi scheme and laundering money in their jurisdiction, no criminal charges were proffered against him in Jamaica. The case against Carlos Hill, the boss of Cash Plus, continues to meander after more than five years. There is no sign that anything significant will happen any time soon.

In the meantime, Mr Hill, accused of leaving Jamaicans more than J$4 billion out of pocket, remains on bail, which is justice neither to him nor his alleged victims. This case must be resolved.

The second weakness highlighted by the amendment to the security law is the continued absence of political party financing regulations, which, we are told, should soon come to Parliament.

David Smith disclosed that he donated substantial amounts of money to Jamaica's two big political parties, the People's National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), for the 2007 election campaign. Both sides admitted getting money, but suggest that it was less than claimed by David Smith. Incredibly, however, neither party can account for precisely how much money it received and how it was managed.

If political party financing law and accompanying regulations were in place, the parties would have had to account for David Smith's donations and the public would have been in a position to make judgements about them. But as the saying goes, better late than never, be it an anti-Ponzi scheme law or legislation covering the financing of parties.

We recall that when the authorities first moved against David Smith, the JLP's Audley Shaw, who was to serve as finance minister, called the action spiteful, oppressive, and stifling creativity. Errol Ennis, a junior finance minister in the PNP government, branded the move as Gestapo.

Such sentiments, we hope, no longer have currency.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.

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