Sun | Feb 5, 2023

Orville Taylor | The sin of greed and dishonesty

Published:Sunday | January 22, 2023 | 1:24 AM

A prayer breakfast in the wake of a massive fraud, involving a loss of US$12.7 million from the investment account of sprint legend Usain Bolt by a ‘trustworthy’ senior female employee of investment company Stocks and Securities Limited (SSL). With...

A prayer breakfast in the wake of a massive fraud, involving a loss of US$12.7 million from the investment account of sprint legend Usain Bolt by a ‘trustworthy’ senior female employee of investment company Stocks and Securities Limited (SSL). With one decimal place the J$1.95 billion looks like one of his 200 metres times, given the speed at which it was taken. Pardon me, if I sound insensitive; but as large as this incredible amount of capital is; I would bet the same sum that inasmuch as it is a ‘big lick’, it will not wipe him out. At this point in his life, even if Bolt has a ‘crack head’ brother, who has access to his account; the ‘toxicomain’ could never smoke off all of his ‘cream’. Don’t be mistaken; thievery is thievery, and it doesn’t matter what the quantum is.

Hidden in this entire shameful saga is an even worse message and I am not sure if the principals at the gathering of church leaders got it. There is nothing more significant about US$12m compared to J$12,000. Point is that the money should never have been touched. True, it makes a major perceptional difference when one of Jamaica’s most iconic figures is the victim. After all, the recent Don Anderson polls indicated that consumer confidence in the last quarter of 2022 grew by a around two per cent. On the other hand, business confidence dipped by almost the identical percentage points.

So, a more trusting set of consumers are at the mercy of the owners of business? As slight as the movement might be, it does tell me that the business community knows something that the average consumer does not. After all, the typical worker has little expertise about how financial institutions and investments operate. Why is the more ignorant group more trusting? Ignorance is bliss. What better poster children do we need than the 87-year-old widow and the childhood friend of the culprit, among her victims.

PUT AT RISK

Therefore, of much greater concern is the likelihood that thousands of small, micro and medium-size investors might be put a risk when they deposit their widow’s mite in financial institutions. In a country where around 70 per cent of working population has little or no retirement benefit. To the credit of the Government, it has implemented the tourism workers pension scheme and the national unemployment insurance, to soften the impact. However, its Finances Services Commission (FSC) admittedly dropped the ball.

Flagged several times over a six-year period, by the FSC, SSL, a company whose history connects to the travesties of the early to mid-1990s, which led to the almost total crash of the financial sector, should have been watched like a woman with a suspicious spouse. After the press conference by the FSC on Wednesday last, it was clear that SSL was given too much rope and ultimately, it hanged its clients. The resignation of its chief executive officer, after weak attempts to justify its inaction – which is an approximation of the rules of natural justice – is an important move. It demonstrates that in fixing any kind of problem, we first admit guilt, accept punishment if necessary, and make amends.

However, all that the FSC did with SSL was perhaps allow for less scrutiny in this entity and therefore created opportunities for more fraud. And as we jump on to the bandwagon of critics of the FSC, which seems to be replicating the follies of 30 years ago, let us not forget that in the past two years, three other women, who fit the profile of this ‘clean’ makeup-wearing middle-class professional, and a few men, in hawk-watched financial institutions, stole around J$200 million. This has nothing to do with the FSC. Moreover, when we add the de-frocked and accused attorneys and pastors who have failed to properly account for ‘The Lord’s money’, we simply need to find ways to lower the propensity to ‘tek people things’.

ANOMIE

In sociology/psychology we speak of anomie and dissonance, where individuals’ minds and their material circumstances are at odds. If a society emphasises the ends and Jamaican dream, without highlighting and providing the means; then smart persons get creative and scam or chop. It matters not whether they are educated or not. A thief with an MBA, PhD, LLB or DD will simply use her initiative to create a mess.

And here is where the religious community’s underwear is showing just how holey it is. For its part the ‘church’ needs to go back to basic and be a church and ‘Christ-ian’. At least a dozen men were murdered between Matthew and Revelation, so that Sabbath/Sunday-only, ‘Lord Lord’ people can casually call themselves Christian. There is far too much disconnect between what is contained in Jesus’ instructions and what they do. For me, the prayer breakfast is a joke, because too many ‘Hypochristians’ and disingenuous politicians use the title as loosely as their lips.

Failing pastors, who cannot woo young men into their buildings and flocks, have no business giving platitudes. For example, a dissonant pastor who cannot understand/admit his own guilt in breaking the law cannot teach non-Christian to confess and make their sins right.

Indeed, the prosperity gospel preaching pastors are also part of the problem themselves. When you stress on material wealth, in an environment where means are limited and pastor is living fat off the tithes, and making a mockery of Christ’s teachings that blessings are not physical and financial wealth, what do you get?

But since we are talking money; let us make every single Jamaican be forced to account for every cent she spends. This includes court fines, legal fees, taxes and political donations. Believe me, until we get to that level or oversight, God will laugh.

- Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer at the Department of Sociology at The University of the West Indies, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.