More attention should be paid to white collar crime

Dear Editor,

The public’s perception is that street crimes are more serious than white collar crime.
Scholars and the general public differ intellectually, ideologically and politically in their definitions of crime as well as with regard to why it exists. Liberal, conservative and radical ideologies are likely to generate different definitions and explanations of crime.

One aspect of Guyanese society is its extremely heavy emphasis on economic success. Apparently, for many who desire the material benefits that the ‘haves’ seem to take for granted but who are thwarted by lack of training or skills or by discrimination, one recourse is to engage in predatory street crimes. Others are able to succeed financially because they are taught how, and are allowed to fully participate; they can attend good schools, join a solid corporation, and work their way up the ladder. Probably very few business executive types would dream of holding up someone or breaking into a house or attacking someone in a rage. Yet in certain companies, the pressure to succeed, to keep corporate profits up, and to fufil the expectations of managers and administrators drive many to commit white collar crimes.

No one knows for sure how many street crimes occur each day (many are not reported) nor do we know how many white collar crimes occur each day. The latter are much more likely to be carefully hidden and their consequences delayed for months or even years. Moreover white collar crimes are far more likely to be dismissed as just another shrewd business practice by an ambitious business executive in order to keep ahead of competitors. Most of us never directly see the results of white collar crimes, nor do we know many people who are visibly harmed by them. By contrast, many of us have been victims of street crimes or know such victims; the results of direct physical assault or the fear of discovering a burgularised home or a stolen car are relatively easy to observe in a victim of these crimes.

Frequently, both the general public and criminologists concentrate on street crimes, their perpetrators and victims, while ignoring white collar crimes which in most cases affect our economy and stagnate real growth.

In spite of the fact that in general white collar crime receives less attention than street crime, several white collar criminals have in recent years been the focus of extensive media coverage in the USA and elsewhere. Allan Stanford and Madoff  would have surely escaped being charged in Guyana, among other things because the police fraud squad lacks the expertise and resources to deal with such crimes. Regrettably Guyana only has one qualified, certified fraud examiner who is a chartered accountant in private practice in New Amsterdam, Berbice.

White collar crimes should be investigated vigorously in Guyana, especially in government departments involving high officials. In the USA investigations into the Whitewater Development Company, an Arkansas company linked to a failed savings loan institution with which former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton were involved (when he was still governor of Arkanas) resulted in the imprisonment of some close friends of the Clintons. Could this have happened in Guyana? A congressional committee was organized to look into possible wrongdoing on the part of Hillary Clinton herself, as well as the Arkansas law firm she was a part of. In spite of all this and other sensational cases and allegations of corruption against senior government officials in Guyana, no action has been taken; the focus in the general public’s perception and the media remains on street criminals. Is this fair?

Yours faithfully,
Robert Gates


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