Andy-Johnson-Columnist-use

In its “Big Question” one day in late September, this newspaper asked readers whether or not they would participate in a pyramid scheme.

This had to do with the massive raid in the La Horquetta community, in which police seized millions of dollars. This is an exercise which remains frankly troubling, given what we have come to know about what transpired.

We have to say thanks to the fact that there were cameras which recorded much of what took place, even to the point of the attempts, as the report said, to disrupt the recording of the activity, when those involved realised they were being filmed. In fact, they thought they had disrupted the capture of the process, but were surprised to learn, after the fact, that there was a remote operation going on simultaneously that was not hampered.

There will be much to say about what we came to learn here as time goes by.

But what is striking from the responses in the paper is the extent to which citizens don’t trust, and are antagonistic to, the country’s financial system in general, and the banking sector in particular. There is a sense of downright hostility, as a matter of fact.

Ten of out 17 responders took the view that the recognised financial system is not working in the interest of ordinary people. It is important to say, at this stage, that this is the sentiment also expressed by one local feminist organisation in its submission to the Government’s economic Roadmap to Recovery Committee—to help the society out of the Covid-19 crisis. It calls for a new playing field that will provide greater space for small investors and people seeking to make their way in the world in exploring investment opportunities.

Some of the comments in the newspaper responses read as follows: one reader asked why doesn’t the Government regulate banks which do their best to keep poor people down. Another said once the persons involved in sou-sou-type operations are honest, there nothing wrong with it because the banks, as well as credit unions, scheme against people and their hard-earned money. Another responder asked what’s the difference between sou-sou-type operations and the Play Whe and Lotto.

One person was also not kind to the insurance system, saying this itself is as kind of scheme. Billions of people are customers of banks, one reader said, advising that maybe we should find out how they started, and how they continue to operate. Echoing this same sentiment, another responder said it was important for people to educate ourselves on how the banking system operates. Someone said by paying National Insurance, he was already participating in a pyramid scheme.

Is it better for people to line up at a bank begging for a loan, when it is they who charge you between ten and 40 per cent interest? was one question.

I lost everything with CLICO and the Hindu Credit Union, so why not go for a third time, one man said, kind of cynically.

And here’s this comment from another cynical reader. They going behind the sou-sou that works perfectly, and not one of his 8,000-plus members made a report. The injustice of the system. Don’t tell people what to do with their money.

What all this establishes is a great dividing line or, shall we say, another one of those many gaps between where some of us are, and where we see others, or where perhaps we think they are looking at us from. And this is just on the money question, leaving aside the many other aspects of our multiple realities that have the effect of setting us apart from one another.

To what extent these are the kinds of perspectives which hinder our solidarity as a people and as a country on the road to being a nation, we have to continue to examine.

The Trinidad and Tobago chapter of the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action submitted a paper proposing a set of alternatives to the Government’s Covid-19 Roadmap Committee, addressing precisely some of these objectives. It called for fidelity with the mandate to move closer towards the ambitions of a just and equitable society. It addressed the widely held view that access to banking and finance, for too many in the lower income brackets, is beyond reach.

It said special mechanisms must be put in place to ensure that both in the short and the longer term, policy initiatives must treat with “not implicitly excluding significant proportions of the population from involvement and participation”. It said there had to be genuine commitment to “addressing and correcting past mistakes”.

Too often, however, public spirited individuals and groups respond to invitations to participate in national dialogue for the purpose of advancing the public agenda without feedback that is either conscientious or respectful of their efforts.

• Andy Johnson is a veteran journalist

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