Sunday, May 10, 2015

You get swing! The lingering matter of fraud!

Have you ever given someone that was taking a trip to America or Canada money in hopes that they would "bring back" a few items for you, but they never returned with the items or the money? Particularly for automobiles and consumer related items? Or, have you ever heard of a case where an employee was hired for a particular position, but the benefits, scope of work or work environment was not what was told on the interview? I think we all can say that there is a fair amount of that happening not just in The Bahamas, but throughout the world.

In The Bahamas we have a saying: You get swing! A song, produced and sung by one of our local artists, Geno D., describes what it means and what it is to get "swing". But, even in his light-hearted approach to the matter, it really is no laughing matter.

The seemingly national art-form of "swinging" must be condemned, at all costs. But it is something so engrained in our psyche, so inherently and distinctive to Bahamian living, one just simply can't waive a magic wand and say the magic words and Voila!, we all started practicing decency like we are indeed a Christian nation with a strong understanding of giving a fair weight and just balances to those you do business with: Something the prosperity gospel in particular misses out on, as well as the fire and brimstone, holy-rolling brand of Christianity misses as well.

It has gotten to such an extent that people and companies by extension, can get away with massive fraud and rip-offs, relatively speaking for the size and position of the Bahamian economy, where it has even been noticed by the American Embassy in The Bahamas where they issued a warning to American citizens looking to buy property in The Bahamas.

Apparently, Americans were coming to The Bahamas to buy land from less than reputable companies, and in many instances buying directly from locals, which of course they were summarily cheated and ripped off.

Some would say that it served them right for trying to buy land through a "hook up", or through a "sweetheart deal", by-passing established real estate companies with a track record and history of doing business fair and transparently. In any case, the image of our piracy, rum-running days, being a nation for sale and the like, is still alive and well and much to our displeasure.

The amount of corporate fraud that happens in this town probably outweighs the amount of murder cases by 100 fold. The lack of proper record keeping, clean and transparent for the public to identify, is also something that lends to the overall nature of doing business in The Bahamas.

However, the last released data on white collar crime in The Bahamas was in 2012. Or at least as far back as this author could possibly find without pulling hair out or having to have a special knock, twist in the wind and incantation for the information to magically appear on my desk.

Reportedly, white collar crime totalled to over $11.5 million dollars in stolen goods, with over 400 cases.  There were 111 murders for the year, 2012, just for your information.

Of course, as we can imagine, white collar crimes were underreported. That's a given. But a significant amount was reported.

To go even further, the compilation of white collar crimes based on their focus- which seems to boil down to petty theft and petty fraud directed through or towards businesses- is just a small tip of the iceberg. In fact, the limited focus on white collar crime only speaks to one demographic, as if employers and institutions are faultless at committing fraud. This is clearly not the case.

Just to give some context, corporate crime is a well defined parameter in law. To sum that up, any crime committed by a company or business that promotes itself for one interest but is working against the very same interest it has gone on record stating that they are supposed to be promoting or protecting.

Essentially, this understanding carries under it a whole host of criminal behaviour, from accounting scandals like what happened with the American energy corporate Enron, where they hid massive losses from their shareholders from various projects; the accounting firm Arthur Anderson, also in America, where the company knowingly shredded and destroyed documents relating to the Enron scandal; and the mining company, Bre-X in Canada, which fraudulently claimed that it had found gold deposits in Indonesia that caused investors to be prompted to buy shares in the company.

In The Bahamas, one can add to that the overwhelming amount of fraud committed by businesses on the public. Some of them flatly promote products and services knowing full well they do not have the capacity to do what it is they promote.

In addition to fraudulent promotion or services committed by businesses on the public, there are countless cases of fraud committed by businesses and persons on the state and from persons within the state machinery that also go underreported and are not reflected in the overall white-collar matrix of criminal behaviour.

Often times cases that happen within the state can easily be brushed aside and made whole again, making crime or the criminal act a "new" (but make no mistake about it being sometimes arbitrary) policy, regardless if the new policy is set in stone or in fact ethical.

To go even further, and this is the main focus of this submission, is that employer to employee theft and business to business fraud happens far too frequently.

As a small business owner, the amount of times entities and individuals "tried" to get work done for free is abysmally saddening. It makes one wonder if the same persons wanting freebies from me, would try the same in America, or even against one of the larger institutions or businesses and get things off the top without paying for what it is they requested.

Countless cases of employees left without pay-checks during the weekend, for work they have done and submitted; cases of employees being dismissed without their proper severance; or just cases of one side not even having the slightest inclination of honouring their side of the agreement, should not be a part of life in The Bahamas as a "regular", run of the mil practice that one can do nothing about.

This type of anti-social depravity does not happen to that extent anywhere in the civilized and developed world, and it is not something that should be glorified or made light of with seemingly no recourse or remedy to alleviate some of the social implications from such depraved and anti-social behaviour. I would go as far as to say that it borders on a regulated system of indentured servitude, with regulators being non-intervening celestial bodies that make it a practice of non-interventionism in mortal affairs.

Along with the criminality and unethical behaviour, I find the approach to these matters, no matter how small it is, to be somewhat appalling and very telling for our society.

What must be done? Certainly there needs to be a review of the agencies and legislation that monitors white-collar crime; fraud; employer malfeasance; and employee fraud as well.

Asking the government to "tighten up" on some of their own practices seems to be a cheap way of letting off some steam for the anarchist in us, but a call we must make in the spirit and totality of what it is we are faced with.

Ultimately, you cannot have a vibrant, growing and dynamic economy for all and sundry, if contracts are not being enforced, property rights are infringed upon and disregarded, and fraud seems to be the order of the day. One simply just cannot have that!
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