When greed leads to grief

By Raffique Shah
Sunday, July 27th 2008

ViolenceTHE dovetailing of two incidents last week laid bare reasons why, in spite of its immense potential, this country seems to be destined for self-destruction. First, there was the execution of a reputed gang leader, Mervyn “Kojo” Allamby, in Aranjuez. Note I did not use the generic name Cudjoe, an Anglicised version of the African name that even those who bear it are unaware of. It’s a bastardisation similar to Cuffie or Cuffy, the African root being “Kofi”, and among Indians, “Maha-beer”, a European version of “Maha-bir”.

But back to Kojo’s killing: that he was supposedly lured into his death-trap following another double murder is testimony to two aspects of underworld living-and-dying. One is the ease with which gangsters and gang leaders are “taken out”, often by their accomplices who know them well. And the other is the brazen manner in which such killings occur, the killers confident they can commit serial offences without police intervention. It’s the same with bandits who commit serial robberies, again knowing police response time allows them to escape unscathed. Acting CoP Philbert may want to look at this gaping loophole in crime fighting and try to plug it.

Following Kojo’s death, a mass of people from the East-West Corridor erupted in spontaneous sympathy that was mixed with seething anger and a genuine sense of loss.

Why was there this outpouring of grief over the death of a man who seems to have been both feared and loved in the communities that knew him, felt his touch? Listening to many people comment on Kojo’s life, the majority of them wondered who would give them money and material things he did.

A few admitted he’d led a life of crime but suggested he had “turned his life around”, that he was now a peace-maker, not a law-breaker. Having sifted the many comments I heard or read, I deduced that Kojo will be missed mainly for the material things he doled out to those for whom a dollar is a dollar, matters not where it came from.

That people can be so insensitive to those who suffered or died in order for them to enjoy handouts, defies explanation. I have repeatedly written about bandits and thieves not adorning themselves with tonnes of stolen gold-which suggests others, including “respectable” jewellers, benefit from banditry. Parents know their children are robbing hapless people. But as long as they benefit, they accept the loot. How many more hide guns-hell, maybe even corpses-for their criminal offspring? So while crimes are committed by a handful of criminals, their support-bases are huge, driven not so much by poverty as by naked greed.

The other event of note was the collapse of the Hindu Credit Union (HCU). I know little of the early development of this institution, which existed for years before Harry Harnarine became the driving force behind its rapid expansion. Harry must take credit for moving the HCU from a hole-in-the-wall operation to the empire into which he transformed it. But by similar token, he must also shoulder blame for its demise. What bothers me is that it did not take a Harvard whiz to see where Harry was going wrong. This country suffered from the collapse of many big financial institutions in the 1980s, all because of poor financial strategies and management.

Financial institutions that accept short-term deposits at higher-than-average interest rates, but use the money garnered in long-term investments, tread on very dangerous waters. That is what happened to Harry and the HCU. Having cornered people’s money by offering eye-popping returns, he soon acquired almost the entire thriving borough of Chaguanas. He bought everything in sight, and much out of sight. The HCU offered property owners way above what they expected to get for their properties, so they sold and the HCU acquired.

As he went on to spread his wings into ventures not normal for credit unions, he soon saw himself-and was seen by others-as King of Central Trinidad (sorry, Mayor Suruj: you didn’t quite make the cut!). He ventured into commercial enterprises, supermarkets, media houses, plans-for-housing, and more. His empire, much like Kojo’s, attracted greedy people from high-to-low, especially when he lured them with bigger bucks they’d ever seen. I was amazed at the calibre of people I saw kow-towing to this “Rajah”, addressing him as “Mr. President”. Harry had arrived into the stratosphere of society. Or so he thought.

A fool could have told him and his fawning followers that the HCU was a disaster-in-the-making. But greed blinds the greedy to the perils of their folly. Now that “Mr. President” has been evicted from his palace, I don’t know that he has learned anything. And I fear the foolish have lost everything.

2 Responses to “When greed leads to grief”


  • In analysing the culture of handouts, get something for next to nothing, and pure greed, it may be worthwhile for some economist with the means at her disposal, to provide data on the number of adults in Trinidadwho are employed in a job with a guaranteed income, and see that as a percentage of the adult population which has to provide for families.

    Many of us who were “poor’ when we were children, rose to positions where an income/salary was acertainty. We could save to own, because therewas money that coud be set aside. We could delay gratification and savor the discipline of waiting to finally get something. That was then.

    the culture of today is fardifferent. young people with credit cards go in over their heads. Cghildren ask for things with no real idea of what they would cost, and parents feel that they have to gratify those needs because they “did not have” when they were children.

    The economics of buying raw materials and preparing food at home,has given way to the KFC box for lunch, Mario’s pizza and TGIF. We wantto live as in an American commercial, with no means. This is a major underpinning of crime.

    Young people should be having discussions about this in schools, in addition to cramming for exams. how many high spending under 40’s could survive six months of job loss? Thse are some aspects of the problem the nation is facing. kojo and Harinarine are tips of icebergs, or undersea mounts.

  • My grand mother who raised me has 4th grade education. Yet when I was younger, she would always tell me to turn off the TV and take up a book. My mother who would press the same in my head, turn off the TV and take up a book. Its not that we had plenty books, and its not that my grand mother’s reading skills were that great. Yet she was always reading.
    Today I find many parents dont read, cant read, and thus their children well, some of them dont and cant read.
    But I really started to enjoy reading, when I actually fell in love with someone who love to read. It was the only way I could impress my love interest at the time. My point is that when did the message of turn off the TV and pick up a book get lost.
    I was a reading tutor for students who were low performing, most of them were from the Caribbean Islands. I was so embarressed when the 10 year olds didn’t know two letter words. Yet these children wore the most expensive clothes in the school, the latest gear to boot. Where and how did these children’s parents fail them. I was told that one girl was raised by a grandmother in the Islands. Who was too old and sick to really see after herself much less the girl. I dont know where the girl is today. But I could guess. Probably pregnant and having a baby at 14. As for the boys, I see some of them near the corner where I work, selling and hustling whatever.
    When I ask him what happen, he bows his head and says nothing. Lately though I have not seen him. Probably on Rikers, if not Upstate. What saved me from the streets. Brooklyn can be a challenging place to be raised. Yet my parents kept a tight reign on me. Where are you going? Who are you going with? What time will you be back? Oh how I hated the questions, but I knew the rules and didn’t dare break them. Plus my parents ( mom and stepfather) were home in evenings, and we had dinner, I went to the neighborhood church on the weekends, (my step father is seventh day and my mom is Moravian, I went to church saturday and sunday, and still I was no angel) Believe me I thought my parents were the dumbest fools in town. Yet they would be so pleased that I was sitting in pews on weekends, even though I would eating candy, talking, playing, sleeping, day dreaming.
    Even later on I met folks who , helped me to set limits on my young self. My parents would encourage me to get involve in all kinda youth activity. I heard the whole idea of delayed gratification, when I became an undergrad. By then my parents were so disappointed in me for dropping out of school the first time. I had to pay my own to win back their love. In school i watched the film the “Eyes on the Prize” How the civil rights movement was fought in the US for the liberation of all people, especially those to come. Like me, the next generation. It seems that it is all lost. Just this weekend I was in my elevator with a groups of teens who were joking about when they go to jail. Imagine that teenagers see jail as part of their future. Thank you.

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