Saturday, November 21, 2009
"Parliament to get tough on loan sharks" was the prime news in today's Straits Times, Saturday November 21 2009. Looking back, my school literature book The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare had a money lending story. Shylock was a money lender. He was worst than today's loan shark. He demanded from Anthony, a pound of his flesh instead of the money borrowed.
In 1950s I came across different category of money lenders. To begin with, there was the Bibik (Nonya) money lenders who makan bunga. Makan bunga literally means eat flowers. It actually means gain interest. The Bibik were not from rich family. Most of them were widows or outcasts as depicted in the story of 'Little Nonya' tv show. They were poor and had to support their family. Lending money business gave them flexible time to look after the children as well as seeing clients. A Bibik money lender usually carried an umbrella in her hand while going on her rounds to look for prospective clients and also to collect money from her borrowers. She knew all her borrowers well and lending money was based on trust. My wife's aunt was a widow with a child. Her husband died when the child was still very young. So, she became a money lender to earn interests to feed the family. Mother and child survived on the interest earned until the child was of age to work. Next was the strong arm type of loan sharks. They set up illegal loan companies. I remember one in Joo Chiat area. He was from my kampong and so were all his runners. His borrowers were mostly trishaw riders and street hawkers. In those days borrowers were given the full loan amount. Unlike today, a borrower did not get the full sum as he had to pay upfront for the first installment of the loan. Loan payment then was weekly and there was no harrassment of payment. But when a borrower was 2 weeks in arrears, he was hauled up to the loan company's office and beaten up. He was released only after a stern warning to pay up.
Another type of loan shark was known as 'sapuloh dua'. It means that for every $10 borrowed, $2 interest was charged. Usually the borrowers were white collar workers. In those days we had our salary in cash which was put in an envelope and called 'pay packet'. On pay day, all office workers had to queue up at the cashier's counter to take their pay. But, outside the cashier's office was loan sharks looking eagerly for their clients. Those who wanted to avoid them would collect their pay on another day or when the loan sharks were not around. There was no strong arm method to get payment. But I do not know how the problem was solved between them.
Today's loan sharks used a different method to get their money back. They used unrelenting and ruthless ways of harassment in getting the debtors to pay up. Sometimes innocent people was victimised and private as well as public properties were vandalised.