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Pickpockets, pickpockets everywhere

By Raoul Pantin

I shook my head with revulsion when I read a recent post on Facebook that recounted a young man asking an elderly woman the time and when she took out her cell phone to check on it, he grabbed the phone and ran off.

It brought to mind a number of stories I’ve heard about women waiting for taxis at the top of Charlotte and Park streets in Port of Spain having their handbags snatched with the young thieves simply running uphill from there and vanishing.

Sadly this sort of petty crime seems to be everywhere you turn. 

But I am beginning to come to terms with the fact that such petty crime is only a manifestation of a much bigger problem  because when you hear the myriad stories, past and present, about corruption in the corridors of power, involving millions of taxpayers’ dollars, you realise that crime in this country is not only all pervasive it virtually starts at the top and filters down, like a contagious disease.

Let’s not get into members of Parliament currently fixing themselves up so, unlike the vast majority of us, they can retire very comfortably indeed.

You can even see the historical origins of our criminal enterprise in the early days of naked piracy later followed by brutish exploitation.

So that today nearly everywhere you turn, there it is—staring you in the eye or with its greedy hand digging into your pocket.

Take note too that when an elderly woman was found at her St James home with her threat slit  on Sunday, there was no community protest, no burning of debris or blocking of roads. I suppose this is known as different strokes for different folks.

Or take, for example,  the decision by a commercial bank I’ve been dealing with for decades to suddenly introduce a $5 fee for cashing your cheque if you don’t happen to have an account with that particular bank.

Now it’s not the actual sum of money involved but the principle of the thing that I object very strongly to because, to my mind, it’s plain and simple picking your pocket, $5 at a time.

Every time I have gone to have one of my Express cheques cashed at that particular bank, I’ve been asked: “Do you have an account here, Mr Pantin?” And I always reply: “No. But the Trinidad Express has.”

And after the usual bureaucratic to-ing and fro-ing the cheque is eventually cashed.

This is after the bank initially demanded that I produce not one but two sets of ID in order for them to accept my identity and cash the cheque with my name on it.

At one point, since I did not have a national identification card, I took to using my passport and my card as a member of the Trinidad Association of Retired Persons (TARP) and there were several occasions on which the teller had to consult with a manager on accepting the validity of either the passport or the TARP card.

On these occasions I always felt like a bit of an imposter. I mean, what the teller was actually querying was whether I was using some kind of false or fake ID in order to have that cheque cashed. The fact that I knew this was never the case didn’t help make me feel any better whenever these queries took place.

And what I thought made this even worse is the fact that for all the years that I worked as an employee of the Express (more than 40 years actually) I went to the same bank branch on Independence Square every month to have my salary cheque cashed—and still, various bank tellers could make me feel like an imposter, like I was “trying a thing”.

Finally, after the usual bureaucratic delays, I managed to get myself a national identification card. I almost threw a party to celebrate the occasion. It only took all of eight or nine weeks for me to get the card which, I’m happy to say, is valid for ten years.

I would have thought that presenting such a card to the bank would have satisfied their need for a valid ID but they still kept insisting on another form of ID, which was either my still valid passport or my TARP card.

Finally, a few weeks ago I was informed by a teller that there was a change in policy: only one form of ID would be necessary to encash cheques totalling less than $6,000.

Progress, I thought. Small, perhaps insignificant, but progress nevertheless.

And then I was suddenly hit with this new $5 “surcharge”, as it were. If I didn’t have an account with the bank, I would have to pay $5 to have my  cheque cashed there.

In effect, I was giving the bank $5 every time I cashed a cheque there for free. 

The only “service” I was receiving in return was the teller going through the usual motions of encashing the cheque, which the tellers at that bank had been doing for me for years with no extra charges.

I then calculated that the bank stood to make a tidy sum of “free” money by introducing such a charge. Assuming, for example, that its tellers cashed 1,000 such cheques in any given month, the bank would be earning itself $5,000—for free. I would imagine that an intake of 5,000 such cheques in any given month would provide the bank with $25,000.

Wow!

I wish I could get into a business like that.

At this point I haven’t quite made up my mind what to do but I do know that the reason crime is so all pervasive in this country is because it turns up everywhere and in every form, from the blue collar cell phone or purse snatcher who’s going to grab your property and run off to the white collar bank clerk, supported by his or her white collar manager, who’s ripping you off of $5 by holding a metaphorical gun to your head every time you try to have a cheque cashed without having an account of your own.

Mark my word: it’s a straight case of pickpockets, pickpockets everywhere! 

And as my sainted mother (may she rest in peace) used to say: it’s got to the point where not one can tell the other turn back. 

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