Why should we believe that white collar crime will not continue to plague the nation?

Dear Editor,

I write in reference to observations made by Ms Vicky McPherson, a shareholder in the Global Energy and Infrastructure group as reported in KN of July 7. First she is said to have opined that laws will not be enough to prevent corruption in our oil and gas industry. Obviously, this opinion is correct. The presence of laws never did or will by themselves prevent crime. For crime to be committed there must first be the presence of an opportunity. Only when criminals perceive an opportunity exists will they move to commit crime.

The presence of opportunity as a most critical ingredient is evident when we note that the homes of the very rich are rarely invaded by thieves. This is so because these homes are protected or assumed to be protected, by sophisticated security systems, armed guards and trained dogs. This offers less opportunity to criminals than the homes of members of the middle and lower classes. Recently we saw the importance of opportunity at work in the attempted robbery at the Republic Bank. The would-be robbers saw opportunity in the fact that a certain staff member would have access to a large amount of cash at a certain time, on a specific day.

The second aspect of Ms McPherson’s reported comments was the suggestion that what is needed to deter corruption is “leadership and the personal conviction to not steal from the public purse.” This statement is not as clear as a casual examination might suggest it is. I take this statement to be referring to both leaders at the political decision-making level and senior persons Guyana has identified to monitor and participate in the management of the oil industry on its behalf. I do so because I suspect the concern is about corruption involving millions and even billions of dollars ‒ white collar crime.

While Sutherland’s theory of Differential Association (DA) has its shortfalls, it remains the most used theory for explaining causation for white collar crime.  Essentially DA holds that our behaviour is influenced by the extent to which we share the values and definitions of law and its violation held by our colleagues. Thus, Sutherland saw this crime as a natural consequence of the interaction with criminal lifestyle. One will recall the old, familiar saying, “Show me your company and I will tell you who you are.” An examination of white-collar crimes in Guyana’s recent history seem to support Sutherland’s contention.

When senior officials in the last government were associated with corrupt acts, we knew these functionaries felt comfortable doing these things because they were assured of support from their colleagues. These were persons with whom, according to Sutherland, they “share values and definitions favorable to law violation.”

For quite some time now the social scientist has noted the tendency of humans to adopt the values of our colleagues/reference group. Social psychology tells us that the tendency to conform to group values and behaviour is really an effort to satisfy our need for acceptance and the maintenance of group harmony. Indeed, not understanding this willingness of individuals to adopt the values and behaviour of their reference group is what led to many of us exclaiming, on hearing of the corrupt acts of someone we knew prior to his/her elevation to positions of influence and authority: “He change! He was never a person like that.”

Editor, it is expected that the oil sector will come on stream somewhere near the end of this government’s present term. While we know what to expect from the PPP based upon its past behaviour which suggests a willingness to pursue self-aggrandizement at the expense of the poor, what are we to expect if the present government is returned to power? It would seem to me that the same yardstick of gauging future behaviour based upon past behaviour that I employed earlier for assessing the PPP must also be used for suggesting how the APNU+AFC is likely to behave if returned to power.

Based upon his behaviour thus far, only the malicious and childishly partisan would suggest that President Granger shows any interest in self- aggrandizement. From his behaviour, it seems showering himself with material riches is not his definition of a successful life; his emphasis seems to be focused on personal spiritual growth. So, while the PPP offers ideal conditions for white collar crimes to flourish, in the case of the APNU+AFC government the accommodation of such crimes comes from the wider community of its governing group. Remember Sutherland’s theory did not focus on the behaviour of the leader but on the wider leadership – colleagues who are one’s “reference group.” It is their acceptance of criminal behaviour that offers the accommodating environment for such crimes. Support for the correctness of Sutherland’s focus on leadership rather than the leader can be seen in the fact that even during the presidency of a simple man like Dr Jagan white collar crime was said to be rampant. So, under the APNU+AFC government when we recall the drugs bond scandal, the mystery surrounding the purchase of millions of dollars of drugs, are we not seeing a culture in the government which suggests support for messing with the peoples’ money?  And what are we to make of a government which sees no harm in taking from the public purse to award themselves a 50% raise in salaries while telling poor public servants all they can afford is 10% or below? At the same time, taxpayers money is used to provide one minister with a rented house costing $500,000 per month. When a government could look out for itself in this brazen manner at the expense of workers, what are we to conclude? Isn’t it, based on its behaviour, giving credence to Sutherland’s contention that white collar crime flourishes where persons in position of authority share a favourable definition of law violation?

Editor, with all the above as our reality, tell me, why should we believe that this government and its senior appointees will not also use oil money in the same selfish manner, and that white collar crime will not continue to plague the nation?

Yours faithfully,

Claudius Prince

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