Peter Lyons: Finance company players' denials say a lot

Lombard Finance and Investments directors, from left, Lawrence Bryant, William Jeffries ,Michael Reeves and Sir Douglas Graham in the dock. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Lombard Finance and Investments directors, from left, Lawrence Bryant, William Jeffries ,Michael Reeves and Sir Douglas Graham in the dock. Photo / Mark Mitchell

There are two types of people in this world. Those who take responsibility for their actions and those who believe that the negative events that befall them are never their fault. The latter never acknowledge that the common element in the dramas in their lives is themselves. They are always the victims of someone else's actions. It is never their fault.

This sounds like a right wing rant. It is not. It is the filter through which we should observe the pathetic denouement of the finance company collapses that have plagued our society in recent years.

The true heroes of capitalism are small business owners who put up their life savings to start a business. Many fail, but those who succeed go on to create jobs and incomes for others and help grow our economy. These entrepreneurial heroes believe their efforts and enterprise will succeed often against high odds. They are the drivers of prosperity. They are willing to take responsibility for their actions and accept the consequences of failure.

Failure often means losing everything.

Let's contrast this attitude with those involved in now defunct finance companies. Their misdeeds fall into various categories. There are those who acted as directors or trustees and received their fees but had little understanding of the risks of the businesses their names were associated with. There are some who just failed as businessmen in a difficult time. There are those who continued to deceive the public while accepting their money knowing that the business was about to collapse. There are those who were lending to themselves, friends and family knowing that the cost of any bad debts would not be borne by them. There were some who received big dividends not long before their business troubles became clear.

Most argue they were unaware of the true situation of their business and this is where legal proof becomes difficult. And maybe there were some who were truly innocent.

There are also those who used their public reputation to promote these outfits. The common factor is that other than in statements to a court before sentencing, not one person has fronted up to accept responsibility in poor decision making, general incompetence or less likely, outright deception. This is an incredibly sad indictment of some of the leading figures in our society.

Many retain substantial assets while hiding behind legal niceties. Some continue to promote other products.

Many of those who lost their life savings in failed finance companies were those least able to recover. They were elderly folk who believed that fixed interest investments were safer. They were people who worked hard hours in jobs for many years. They raised families while denying themselves extravagances. They lived for retirement in the belief that this money set aside would allow them a few pleasures in their older years. The actions of the finance company perpetrators can, in many cases, be likened to the economic rape of these citizens. These folk didn't aspire to mansions or heated swimming pools or extravagant overseas birthdays. All they hoped for was a few treats in their old age. They have been robbed of this. Yet no one has taken public responsibility for his actions in any capacity. The use of male pronouns in this article is deliberate.

To my knowledge, no director has volunteered after the collapse to return his fees. No advocate has offered to put the amount for which he sold his reputation into a fund for compensating the victims. Many continue to fight the obvious fact of their ineptitude, incompetence or culpability. The evidence of their failure as businessmen and in some cases, decent humans, is there for all to see.

Peter Lyons teaches economics at St Peters College in Epsom and has written several economics texts.

- NZ Herald

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