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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 September 2005, 14:43 GMT 15:43 UK
Face to face: Debtor and creditor
As part of the BBC's Who Runs Your World? series, we are looking at people locked into relationships of power. Here, we hear from a debtor and creditor.

Below a Trinidadian woman who is heavily indebted tells us her story. She asked to remain anonymous.

Ice cream
The spiral towards debt began with a newspaper advert
It started off OK - I went into it not knowing what it would turn out to be, or what kind of problems I would encounter.

That was four years ago.

The business has been closed for two years - I was only able to keep it open for a year and three quarters.

It was a nightmare.

I saw an ad in the newspapers looking for persons who were interested in opening a sub-franchise of an ice cream business.

I called the owners and went for an interview. They encouraged me to go through with it.

Altogether I borrowed about $250,000 (140,000).

After the business had been going about three months, I discovered that we just weren't bringing in enough sales. We also weren't getting enough advertisement from the franchise holder.

The overheads were extremely high, between the electricity bills, the employee salaries, the local stock that I had to pay every week.

The only cash that was coming in was going into those things, and there was nothing extra. All the money that was coming in went. Six months after I opened the business, I should have closed. But I didn't - I held on for another year and a half. It got me into a situation where I was having problems paying rent.

The owner of the mall started clamping down on me. Towards the end he sent in a bailiff to seize the equipment. I don't know how I ever overcame that.

I felt very hurt, and I was determined I would move and open up somewhere else. I thought it was [a temporary obstacle]. When I realised the business was gone, I was devastated.

Creditors run my world. I owe over $200,000.

I was thinking of selling my house and using a portion of the money to pay off my creditors, and the balance to buy another property for me to live in, but I realised that if I did that, the portion that would be left would not be enough to put a roof over my head.

I see myself trapped right now, because I'm 55 years old and I have nobody to look after me. I need a roof over my head, so I don't want to lose my home.

What I decided to do was to rent out my house that I'm in right now to a foreign company. With the funds that I get from that, I can start paying off my creditors over a period of time.

One of the creditors got 20,000 US dollars which was from the sale of the equipment. They haven't been down my throat, but I've had lots of threats and stuff initially.

To be able to utilise the banks and to do any kind of business in the future, I have to be able to pay off the banks and pay all my debts. If I'm able to do that on my own, who knows what else I will be able to do?

Lindi Bala Tau is one of the managers of the legal department at First Citizens Bank Ltd, the third largest bank in Trinidad and Tobago.

A lot of people go into business without thinking through all the implications of running it.

You might be able to provide a service - for example, repairing cars - but in addition to that you have to be able to manage workers.

That one person has to be chief cook and butler. He or she has to be able to ensure that they pay the utilities and deal with the employees and pay them properly.

Trinidad bank notes
When people are heavily indebted, it does appear that the bank runs their world
Our approach has been that we will be with you until the very last. We understand that people get into debt and so we treat each person on a case-by-case basis.

I would try to have it amicably settled. We want to ensure that the debtor pays off his debt, albeit over a lengthy period of time.

Many times, the bank walks away from interest or a portion of the interest, just to bring closure to this particular encounter.

The bank's expectation in a sense is clear - we want to get paid back. That's the bottom line of the business.

If you find yourself in debt, take practical steps.

When people are heavily indebted, it does appear that the bank runs their world. But I wouldn't say that.

When people are heavily indebted, the debtor himself did not run his own world well, and therefore has left that decision to his or her creditors - who may be bankers.

The issue about that is, when you're in that level of debt, the only noises you hear are the bankers screaming at you for their portion or share.

And what you really need to do is put yourself back in the driver's seat, because it is your world. We took the decision, and therefore we put ourselves in this mess.

The bank runs the world of all of us in the modern times, because we all are at various levels dependent on the bank, whether it's for a mortgage or loan for consumer items.

But the bank plays a critical role in all our lives and we just have to accept that the bank runs the world of many of us.


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