Malaysia can attract white-collar criminals seeking to do community service
WHEN he sentenced Rajat Gupta, the former McKinsey & Co boss, on Wednesday to two years in prison for insider trading-related offences, Judge Jed S. Rakoff of the Federal District Court in Manhattan spurned the chance to be the midwife at the birth of penal tourism.
We've heard of ecotourism, medical tourism, religious tourism, sports tourism, agritourism, education tourism and even sex tourism. So why not a type of tourism that caters for people convicted of crimes, offering these people a chance to atone for their wrongdoings through community service away from home?
Gupta's lawyers suggested precisely this in a sentencing memorandum submitted on Oct 17. In requesting that the court impose a sentence of probation with the condition that Gupta perform “a rigorous full-time programme of community service”, the lawyers proposed two options.
The first is that he's assigned full-time for a few years to Covenant House, which provides emergency shelter and other services for homeless, runaway and at-risk youth.
The idea is that he will be based in New York to work directly with the children at Covenant House's facility in Manhattan, and to help Covenant House come up with strategic initiatives for expansion and improvement. There's no tourism element here because New York is one of several places where Gupta maintains a residence.
The second option, in the words of the lawyers, is “less orthodox but innovative”.
No kidding. The plan is for Gupta to go to Rwanda to contribute towards improving the delivery of health care (focusing on HIV/AIDS and malaria) and agricultural development.
The Rwandan government has agreed that if the judge accepted the proposal, Gupta would be under its direction and supervision, along with Care USA, a humanitarian and development organisation. He would live and work with government officials in the African nation's rural districts.
In the sentencing memorandum, Gupta's lawyers explained: “We recognise this is an unusual community service proposal, but one that could potentially provide great benefits to large numbers of Rwandans desperately in need of help, and which Mr Gupta is uniquely situated to perform.
“Moreover, it would require Mr Gupta to confront significant hardships and would thus constitute punishment commensurate with the seriousness of the offence, as Gupta would be thousands of miles from his family and friends, and would be living in basic accommodations in rural areas of the country.”
However, Rakoff rejected both proposals, labelling them as “Peace Corps for insider traders”. He instead stuck to the conventional, sending Gupta to jail, slapping him with a US$5mil fine and ordering him to be placed under a year of supervised release after the prison term ends.
But the idea of penal tourism is now out there. There's rich potential in welcoming white-collar criminals who are made to do community service in faraway places.
Besides the direct impact of their work, these wealthy law-breakers will draw the international spotlight, thus raising the profile of the host countries. The criminals are likely to function as magnets that attract family members, friends and associates to come over. All this attention can translate into cash inflows for penal tourism destinations.
Malaysia should seize this opportunity to claim the first-mover advantage in penal tourism. As outlined by Gupta's lawyers, the key is to have plenty of community service projects that involve “significant hardships” so that the criminals (or penal tourists, to use the politically correct term) are indeed doing work that can be widely accepted as punishment that fits the crimes.
Here are some projects that can be used to promote Malaysia as a hotspot for penal tourism:
Stick no bills: The problem with the Ah Longs is not only their frighteningly high interest rates and intimidating debt collection tactics. Their annoying advertising strategy is to plaster signs, walls, lamp posts, phone booths and other surfaces with stickers bearing their contact numbers. Penal tourists can pay their debt to society by painstakingly removing these stickers and doing restoration work if there's damage.
Setting the record straight: When somebody attempts to break a trivial record or establish a new one for example, the longest popiah, largest group of people doing Gangnam Style moves, most Facebook “likes” in 24 hours penal tourists will be present to verify the feat.
Gaydar duty: Penal tourists will be tasked with compiling statistics on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. They will rely on a leaflet recently issued by the Yayasan Guru Malaysia Bhd and Putrajaya Consultative Council of Parent-Teacher Associations to spot those with LGBT tendencies.
Pointing in the right direction: Armed with laser pointers, penal tourists will be stationed at concerts, plays and cinemas to shame the inconsiderate people who use mobile phones, or who talk too much and loudly.
The scoop on food: Penal tourists will be put in charge of crowd control and apportioning of food at government open houses during festivals, AGMs of listed companies and popular hotel buffets. Their job is to ensure there's queuing and that there's no wastage of food. Now that's true hardship.
Garbage or generosity?: There's often a lot of unusable stuff among items given away to welfare homes and charitable organisations. The penal tourists can be deployed to sift through the piles of things.
Smoking wardens: This is strictly for penal tourists who relish a tough challenge with a dash of danger. They will patrol smoke-free zones to tick off smokers who insist on having a puff. The tourists will be required to sign indemnity forms before starting work.
Compelling courtesy: Instead of air marshals, we have bus and train marshals. The penal tourists will ride buses and trains to zero in on passengers who refuse to give up seats for the elderly and the disabled, pregnant women, and mothers with young children. Boarding passengers who don't wait for others to disembark will be targeted as well.
To delete or not to delete: Online political forums can get wild and woolly if they aren't moderated vigilantly. Penal tourists will be entrusted with the gruelling job of monitoring forums to ensure there's no flaming and spamming, use of inappropriate language, and seditious or defamatory content. If that sounds punishing, Malaysia is on track to becoming a top penal tourism destination.
By The Star Executive editor Errol Oh is happy to be just a plain tourist.
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