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Raffique Shah


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Only in Trinidad

By Raffique Shah
November 23, 2017

Until such time as persons in public life who are criminally responsible for stealing from the public purse, or for abusing their powers to enable their friends or associates to unfairly, maybe even illegally, acquire state lands or subsidised housing, are thrown into jail like the common thieves they are, this society will continue to decay, to fall apart, hurtling towards a failed state, a dubious title that we seem hell-bent on attaining, as if it were an achievement we can be proud of.

Note well that for all the accusations of political banditry through the years, not one "big boy" has ever been charged, shackled, hauled before a court, tried and jailed in a stinking cell, as happens in other jurisdictions where, for all their inequities, justice is dispensed equally, and the wealthy and the powerful have paid the ultimate price for their white collar crimes.

Take for example the Bernie Madoff scandal in the USA: the high-flyer who gypped people of billions of dollars through a Ponzi scheme was arrested and hauled before the courts in shackles. He pleaded guilty to several charges in 2009, and was sentenced to 150 years in prison. He is currently rotting in a Carolina prison, and according to news reports, even his wife and grandchildren have stopped visiting him.

Scores of other similar offenders in the USA were also jailed, but one that is of interest to us is Allen Stanford, that fraudster who was knighted by the Antiguan government, the man who used millions of US dollars of depositors' money to dramatically transform T20 cricket. He was embraced by the overlords of the game and governments of the region—until the US authorities indicted him in 2009 for running a seven-billion-dollar Ponzi scheme.

He was imprisoned, badly beaten by other inmates, convicted in 2012, and sentenced to 110 years' jail. He, too, is rotting somewhere in Florida.

In Trinidad and Tobago, fraudsters who have committed similar crimes have never been made to account. A few of them fell into hard times following the collapse of a number of financial institutions of dubious repute back in the 1980s. But none slept in stinking cells, and almost all of them bounced back to rejoin the elite echelon of society.

While the CL Financial collapse in 2008 was not of the same mould, it is only in Trinidad that eleven years after the Government used taxpayers' money to bail out the conglomerate that the public does not know exactly how much the Group owes, what sums have been recovered, and how much is still outstanding.

Worse, some of the high-flyers who presided over that fiasco continue to live high on the hog, owning multi-million-dollar properties from here to the USA to Canada and England. They will never face the courts, far less see inside a cell or make a long stretch in jail.

Only in Trinidad!

Estimates of how much public money has found its way into private hands by fraud and patronage run into tens of billions of dollars, span decades, starting with the first oil boom of 1973 and staying current into today's harsh economic times. Yet, no one is held accountable the way two presidents and other senior office-holders, as well as super-wealthy contractors, have dragged to court in Brazil.

Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff have been charged with diverting funds from the state-owned oil company, Petrobras. If found guilty, they could face long terms of imprisonment. Here, state-owned Petrotrin has been looted, raped, exploited, reduced to a heavily-indebted many-billion-dollar burden, mainly because of political pillage—and no one is held accountable.

Only in Trinidad!

In fact, as if to pour oil on troubled water, and I don't mean the pollution of the Gulf of Paria that Petrotrin frequently commits, we now have the saga of "fake oil", crude that was never delivered, but for which the beleaguered company paid close to $100 million, as confirmed by an audit followed by an investigation. Will anyone be arrested, charged, imprisoned for such boldfaced banditry? I doubt it.

Only in Trinidad!

A recent Express news report told of huge tracts of premium land at Chaguaramas being leased to the super-wealthy for rents ranging from five dollars per acre (not square foot) per month to $1,000 per acre, mostly during the tenure of the People's Partnership administration. In one instance, the current Government had to re-negotiate a lease to allow for direct public access to the beach, and for parking.

Who was, or were, responsible for almost freely sharing out valuable Chaguaramas lands, the way they do "parsad" at prayers, to select billionaires? For all the allegations of corruption, we may never know. The for-free leases will stand, the culprits will "shake dey tail in we face", the rich will get richer—and for sure, no one will make ah jail.

Only in Trinidad!

I can continue with hundreds of examples of people high and low profiteering off the national patrimony (don't get me started on Caroni lands—that's a billion-dollar outrage!), but to what end? The unscrupulous will never stop the looting because they know they will never be arrested or jailed.

Only in Trinidad!

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