Pentecost, credit unions and history

By Michael Burke

Thursday, May 17, 2018

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This coming Sunday is Pentecost Sunday in most churches. Also, this weekend the Jamaica Cooperative Credit Union League will hold its annual convention, at the end of which will be the annual general meeting of the credit union league. I attempt, as I did last week, to use major church events to teach and comment about current realities; this week Pentecost and credit unions.

It was in Jerusalem at Pentecost that the Holy Spirit came on the believers. This was the start of the Christian Church, of which Peter was its first leader — whom Roman Catholics refer to as the first pope. Peter presided over the casting of lots to replace Judas, who committed suicide, and Matthias was chosen (Acts 1:26). When the bystanders said that the men speaking in foreign tongues were drunk, it was Peter who addressed the crowds (Acts 2:14).

I use the following riddle as an educational tool only. In my student days at Jamaica College, one boy would ask when was cricket mentioned in the Bible. The answer given was: “In the beginning (big inning) God created the heaven and the earth (Genesis 1:1) and in Acts 2:14 Peter stood up with the 11 and was bold (bowled).”

So the Holy Spirit came down on the believers at Pentecost. The same Holy Spirit (there is no other) was invoked by the Young Men's Sodality of Holy Trinity (Roman Catholic) Cathedral in 1941 to come down on poverty-stricken Jamaicans in the form of credit unions.

In 1941, the poorest Jamaicans were little better off than slaves. They could not dare walk into a bank, and if they needed loans they had to depend on loan sharks — who wanted up to 75 per cent interest on their loans. With what is happening today in the banks, and in some credit unions, many argue that Jamaica has come full circle.

This reminds me of those who borrow and never repay. It is one thing to have difficulty in repaying, as just about everyone is challenged in this regard. I am referring to those who borrow and have no intention of repaying.

Delinquency has always been a problem in credit unions. This is why in the early credit union education done by the Roman Catholic Church conscience was part of the teaching. Each one was urged to remember that if some did not pay back their loans then there would be either none or less from which other members could borrow.

Those who stopped the education of credit union members have indirectly contributed to delinquency. The reasons might have been to keep the members ignorant of their rights so that as directors they would not be voted out. However, the lack of education also stopped the classes in conscience.

Today there is a move to stop nominations from the floor of credit unions in order to abide by some new and proper rules in the new banking regulations that have been proposed. If the nominating committee can prevent only those nominations where an intended nominee is not fit and proper, according to law, that is one thing. But the nominating committee should never be the final arbiter in who is nominated and who is not. This goes against democracy and it is anti-cooperative.

I have a question for the registrar of cooperatives. Since the general meetings are supreme, what happens if members vote not to accept the recommendations of the nominating committee if there are only nominations approved by them? I suspect that it is only a matter of time before the rules are reversed to the old way of allowing nominations from the floor.

Cooperatives throughout the world came about mainly because of destitution and hunger. Today, in Jamaica, destitution is not as big a challenge. The problem today is stress as workers seek to repay their debts mostly created by aggressive advertising of products.

Since just about every adult borrows at some time, the credit unions should encourage cooperative tourism among its members and suggest that they use their cooperative earnings to pay their loans. The problem comes through salary deductions of their full-time jobs as it informs their employers that they have loans. Many employers then oppress the workers knowing that they dare not leave the job, as they would not be able to service their loans.

It is hard to tell whether the system as it is stresses men and women at the same level, but the system does stress both men and women. Men who have wives and families know that if they lose their jobs and cannot pay for the house and car, their wives will leave them. Many women with children, but no husband at home, find that they have to foot all the bills and put up with many forms of harassment, sexual and otherwise, to keep their jobs to make their payments. And this, in my opinion, is a major cause of stress in Jamaica at this time.

How many directors of credit unions care about such matters? Is conscience a thing of the past? How many credit union directors are only concerned about the perks, rather than helping the oppressed? The prophets of the Old Testament and epistle writers in the New Testament urged the chosen people to come back to the Lord's teachings. We need more prophets to tell credit unionists to return to the original message.

On the subject of history, a commenter wrote words to the effect that if we blame the pirates for our present situation in Jamaica then how is it that Europe had the Vikings but does not have our crime rate? The Vikings raided Scandinavia from the 790s until the Norman conquest of England in 1066. What role did education play in that whole exercise of change to the present? The end of the Viking raids was 852 years ago. Morgan was governor of Jamaica less than 345 years ago.

Education to change mindsets take time. I make no excuses about the present wrong attitudes in our society. The ones that make excuses are the ones who will not look beyond the politicians, some of whom have exacerbated the problem, but did not start it.

Michael Burke is a research consultant, historian and current affairs analyst. Send comments to the Observer or

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