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Menzgold: When fraud meets ‘Ghanamanic gullibility’ et al

BY: Rodney's portpourry
Nana Appiah Mensah — CEO, Menzgold
Nana Appiah Mensah — CEO, Menzgold

I borrow the words 'Ghanamaic gullibility' from my friend, the author and engineer Nana Awere Damoah, who used them as the title of a short essay in his 2013 book I Speak of Ghana.

In the piece, he stated that generally as a people, we are too trusting and gullible, and thus some politicians, herbalists, pastors and others are literally able to run rings around us.

Nana recounts a trotro journey in Accra, during which a herbalist got unto the bus, extolling the virtues of an ointment he was offering for sale, and which, as he claimed, could cure anything from headaches, blocked nose, sneezing, piles and God knows what, and then offered some of the ointment for passengers to try by smearing on their foreheads.

As Nana puts it, 'within minutes, eyes were oozing with water, noses were running, foreheads were sweaty, and many passengers were nodding in appreciation of the 'hotness' of the stuff. There was a massive sale'!!

This little tale, which I am sure most readers have experienced before one way or another, has been niggling me since it became clear to all serious minds that Menzgold had gone up in smoke and with it, people had lost huge amounts of money, probably never to be recovered.

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Ponzi scam

From what I have read and listened to, it is evident that this ponzi scam was planned in minute detail from the get-go with one thing in mind; the gullibility of many Ghanaians a perfect ingredient.

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Nana Appiah Mensah (or NAM1, as he is better known) knew that we simply do not ask probing questions or seek further and better particulars, nor do we generally seek professional legal or financial advice before investing financial schemes.

He also knew that many people in this country worship status and flashy things without question, and that they are important props to acquiring public confidence and adulation — the private jets, grand houses, shimmering, gaudy office blocks bathed in 'gold', expensive cars and photo opportunities with prominent personalities, among others.

All these, together with legally defective, meaningless contracts and worthless tokens appeared to be carefully designed to impress and boost public confidence in the eye-watering returns he offered.

For crying out loud, the contract offered clients 'Aurum Utalium', which simply means 'fools' gold' and also referred to a string of laws which did not exist, had been repealed or were simply inapplicable to the transaction.

And the shimmering ruse worked —at least until the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) ordered Menzgold to stop taking deposits as it did not have a licence to do so.

Crucially, SEC did not block the company from paying returns to its clients.

But at that point the flimsy Ponzi scheme came crashing, as all such schemes do when the deposits dry up. And when the party came to an end, he simply galloped into the sunset, along with people's dreams and hopes.

If the Menzgold investors were mainly people who had not had the benefit of formal education, perhaps it would have been easy to conclude that they were misled and taken advantage of due to their lack of formal education and, therefore, their vulnerability.

But from what I hear, the profile of depositors is so wide-ranging and even includes senior bank officials who took concessionary staff loans and invested the money in Menzgold, expecting to cream off the returns that dripped with fat.

For such persons, and others who one would expect to know better than to believe that 120 per cent interest per year is normal, perhaps those who describe them simply as greedy are not wide off the mark, but I think that fundamentally, it is gullibility that is our bane as a nation in these matters.

Responsibility

On Newsfile on Joy FM /Joy News last Saturday, legal practitioner Ace Ankomah made a forceful argument that the State had at least, on four fronts, failed to exercise the full ambit of its powers in nipping Menzgold in the bud, and provided the relevant information to buttress his claim.

But I believe state failures notwithstanding, it is also important for a potential customer to take personal responsibility in these matters.

As Ace rightly put it, 'before you invest, investigate'. Tellingly, Menzgold customers effectively turned their ire on the authorities when the right thing was being done, with furious accusations that the State was trying to run down a Ghanaian businessman, and alluding political twists to it.

They were so blinded by the allure of their untouchable god and redeemer NAM1. 'No NAM1, No Vote', read one of the placards when some demonstrators turned up to warn the State to leave them and Menzgold alone. I was amused.

Investigating before investing goes beyond financial investment. If people would actually develop a healthy scepticism, ask questions and dig deeper, perhaps people would not eagerly flood Dr Obengfo's clinic in search of plastic surgery on the back of mere advertisements, in many cases with disastrous results.

If people took time to find out more about some pastors and so-called men of God, perhaps you would have fewer cases of some people being sexually exploited by some of them in their search for children, for instance.

Desperation?

Of course, I do appreciate that in many cases desperation drives people into the hands of charlatans, especially people in desperate need for cures to an ailment, or people desperate to have children.

It is understandable that such persons would be in such a vulnerable state of mind as to latch unto literally any straw that is thrust their way. But in many cases, what one perceives to be a straw is actually a noose that ends up strangling.

I struggle to accept that a person who goes to borrow money from the bank at a relatively lower interest rate with the sole aim of investing it in a scheme with little or no due diligence is acting out of desperation.

Or that a person who has been entrusted with family or church or some other money and who seeks to make some quick money on the side by pushing it into such a scheme is acting out of desperation.

It is our trusting nature that allows charlatans to thrive and run rings around us in literally every sphere of our national lives. And I dare say that a part of this stems from our near-obsession as a people with 'humility' as a virtue above all others, which as I have always insist, is in fact docility and forelock-tugging subservience.

In politics in particular, a 'God-fearing', 'humble' politician is adored even if he or she is incompetent, whereas a confident, assertive, competent politician is written off as arrogant and 'too-known'.

I hate to say this, but if someone popped up tomorrow purporting to trade in diamonds and offering an eye-watering return of 20 per cent per month on investments, people will jump at it, as many jumped at Menzgold even with Ackah Blay Miezah and his Oman Ghana Trust, Pyram, US Tilapia, DKM, God is Love and a string of other financial scams littering the financial landscape of our past.

Perhaps we need to rethink our values, and our education system, right from the get-go, must encourage children to question and challenge and analyse.

Our teacher training system is undergoing reforms. I am confident that these will be addressed. No doubt parents also have a huge role to play.

We must nurture, not kill children's natural curiosity and inquisitiveness.

As Nana Damoah concludes in his piece, 'gullibility will only take us to Golgotha or a worse place'.
And I agree fully with him.

By Rodney Boateng
Writer’s email (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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