T’was just a few weeks before Christmas when Santa’s least favourite helper Minister of National Security Stuart Young decided to bestow on the nation a Christmas gift no one was particularly asking for – a brand new Polymer $100 bill.
Young took a break from threatening legal action against his number one Facebook hater to spread the word that along with the 789 things you need to get done before the New Year, you would also need to venture into the most cheerful place on earth (the bank) and change your old $100 bills.
Nothing makes Trinbagonians happier than the bank at Christmas.
As of December 31, 2019, those cotton $100 bills will be worth as much as all political parties’ elections promises- nada, zilch, naught, zip, zippo, zero and nil.
The reality is Trinidad and Tobago is brimming with money made from corruption, drugs and guns. It’s common knowledge that drug dealers, gun runners and corrupt officials don’t accept personal cheques, so they often have large amounts of cash which they either clean through businesses and real estate or store in mattresses or garbage bags buried in their backyards.
According to the honourable minister and the Central Bank, the change of bills is meant to regain control of the amount of cash in circulation – especially that which have been illegally earned. It will force people with large sums of cash to declare their source of funds, with suspicious transactions being monitored by the Financial Investigations Unit (FIU).
Here’s the thing though, if I was a criminal master mind with a suitcase of cash the last thing I would do is go to the bank, far less Central Bank to have it changed.
I would have to get creative really fast and accept that I am most likely going to make a huge loss. A loss, I might add, won’t particularly ruffle my underwear since in a couple of weeks I’ll sell some more drugs and guns and make my money back in new clean bills. Ahh yes, it may require some overtime, but it’s my duty to supply.
Seriously though it’s going to be pretty difficult cleaning, let’s say, $10 million in cash in just 14 days. These aren’t the olden days, I can’t just walk into a car dealership and buy ten luxury vehicles with plans to sell them for clean money or buy some random land without some questions asked.
While the plan is rooted in good intentions, it is unfortunately being poorly executed, especially in regards to the timing.
I understand the 14 days. It makes large amounts of sketchy cash hard to get rid of without raising some red flags.
Additionally, the short timeline limits cash shortages. In 2016, India did something along the same effect, demonetising 500 and 1000 rupee notes. The purpose was the same as TT’s to crackdown on corruption and hoarding of cash earned through illegal means.
India however gave the population roughly two and half months, in which time many of those with illegally earned cash had time to wash it. The long timeframe also caused severe cash shortages and negatively impacted the economy.
The time of year is the biggest problem. Christmas is busy enough without having to line up for hours at a bank. For people with banking trust issues or older folk who have had cash saved up for a rainy day this can be extra stressful, especially when asked to provide information on their source of funds. Unless they are hoarders like my husband who has a box of receipts spanning the last decade (make that 790 things I need to do this Christmas).
There is also the problem of “dumping.” People with small amounts of $100 are doing their best to get rid of them. On Wednesday, I saw a tanty in Massy Stores buy $2,000 worth of groceries in cash. These were not groceries she needed right away – I mean who seriously needs 20 tins of beans and enough nonperishable food items that will definitely out live her. Note: If you are a relative of this lady, congratulations you are probably inheriting a can of tuna or maybe three.
A result of this is retail businesses are swamped with $100 bills, running low on change and are in danger of not being able to switch out all of the money before the deadline.
This has led to a series of businesses refusing to accept $100 after a certain date. You can’t blame them.
And the whole enterprise has not been a popular move among those who for either personal or religious reasons do not keep their money in the bank. But guess what? Life isn’t fair, think of the bigger picture and stop being bratty.
Personally, I agree with the move in a larger sense of taking any measure needed to crackdown on money laundering and corruption. However I think the timing was a true “brain fart” of an idea.
But you know who I sympathise with the most right now? Bank tellers. Their working hours have been extended and no amount of overtime can compensate for the level of abuse I am sure they are receiving by intensely irate customers.
We’ll see how it works out I suppose. I personally am intrigued to see if this huge headache of inconvenience will actually lead to some people being investigated. If it doesn’t…I suspect the New Year will not be a happy one for the minister of national security.