Is a sou-sou more dangerous than a gun?
Caribbean nationals oftentimes save their money using methods that are not a part of traditional banking systems.

Dear Editor,

Is it a criminal offence to participate in a sou-sou?

There are people like me who find it difficult to understand and follow the choices that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago makes. A Government that finds it very difficult or perhaps not critical to make changes to legislation that can improve the quality of life for its citizens and make quick changes that may, at best, require some more thought.

Let me clarify. The country is overburdened with murders and criminality to such a point that the US Government advises its citizens to exercise caution when visiting. Yet there has been no adjustment to the firearms legislation to make owning a firearm to protect one's home and business accessible. There is no legislation for acquiring non-lethal weapons like tasers and miniature tear gas cannisters. There are no structured police patrols, making it mandatory for police to patrol communities throughout the day and night. There is no legislation to change vehicle registration to ensure that only secure licence plates issued by the State are placed on vehicles. Then there are the legislations and penalties for people caught with illegal firearms. These bailable offences allow many who are held and charged for possession to be back on the streets days afterwards with another illegal firearm.

Firearms are not toys. They are not designed to create fear. They have one purpose and that is to kill. Thus, if one were to acquire a firearm it is to kill in order to protect one's person and property or kill for reasons that may more than likely be illegal. One would think, therefore, that legislation regarding the illegal possession of firearm would be among the harshest.

But rather than concentrating on such legislation, one finds that some of the harshest penalties are reserved for those seeking a financial arrangement outside of the almost punitive measures of the legal banking sector.

Many people in Trinidad and Tobago have entered into what is known as a sou-sou. It is a non-interest, cooperative savings system in which each person contributes the same fixed amount each week, and the whole amount is taken by a different member each time. For many, this is how they got their down payment for major purchases in their lifetime. Now there is legislation which says that "a person who establishes or operates a prohibited scheme is liable, if convicted, to pay a fine of TT$10,000,000 or imprisonment for 10 years". It further describes the prohibited scheme as pyramid type or Ponzi. What is a pyramid-type scheme? Can a sou-sou be described as a pyramid-type scheme? Is there allowance in the Act for continuation of the localised saving plan called Sou Sou?

Why TT$10,000,000 for an act in which volunteers agree to participate, knowing the risk. Why a much smaller fine for one taking up a weapon to kill another? Some may wonder if there is a concerted effort to place economic pressure on the poor and protect the rich.

There must be a sensible answer somewhere.

Steve Alvarez

Trinidad and Tobago

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