Friday, April 24, 2009

Robbing Peter to Rob Paul?

The latest pyramid scheme recently collapsed, leaving scores of 'shareholders' to anxiously await the return of their monies. Development Entrepreneurship for Community Development (DECI) was registered by some shady independent church as a business, which allowed it to fly under the radar of our Government undetected for quite the while. The organization encouraged people to 'plant' their investments so they could 'reap' returns of 100% interest or more...

When their operation was outed by a nosy newspaper the Government was inspired to investigate. Their findings: DECI is a pyramid scheme, which makes it illegal, so Paradisans should refrain from investing while they gathered themselves to shut down the operation. Since no good deed goes unpunished, upon hearing this DECI investors immediately herded together and bleated that since the Government had failed to enrich them, it should butt out of their business and stop interfering with real investors. Heh.

It was serious enough to make the evening news- DECI preachers preaching, mobs of investors chanting, some making overripe statements to journalists: "DECI saved my life! The Government doesn't know what its job is!" Yet in the papers, we read that Kenyans had defenestrated the Director of DECI Kenya when they found out it was a con. You'd think this would have given Paradisans a clue. Luckily, the Paradisan story ends well. When DECI finally came clean, they just asked 'planters' to claim their refunds and gentle Paradisans flocked to their offices to sign up for the repayment schedule.

Admittedly DECI was exploiting our credulity when it comes to men of the cloth (which serves us right), but did we have to go and exacerbate matters by rejecting a Government intervention that was useful, for once? When it was up and running, DECI refused to tell its clients how it was investing their money and getting such high returns. And we flocked to their offices in droves. And then we reprimanded the Government for getting in the way of making money. If I was a con artist myself, I would assume from this incident that a Paradisans and her money are soon parted.

Which is a bit unfair, admittedly. As Bernie Madoff so handily demonstrated, wealth and education are no defence against a good swindle. Confidence artists only need to exploit our natural anxiety to make more money. As evidenced by DECI's experience and our oversubscribed IPOs, there is money hanging around unbanked and looking for an investment opportunity. Like, say, a mutual fund or a sub-prime mortgage con...

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