KOYA EXPLAINS WHY FAIR REPORTING OF CREDIT ACT
‘Data Bureau was self-regulated and didn’t protect the privacy of individuals’
There is inaccurate information circulated via the media by certain individuals with vested interest, claiming that the Fair Reporting of Credit Act will create problems in the credit sector, as credit providing institutes will no longer have credit history of customers.
This statement is totally incorrect.
Data Bureau had incorrect, unverified information
The information from the Data Bureau has proven to have errors and unverified information that needs to be independently scrutinised. For more than a decade ordinary Fijians have been suffering at the hands of, the only credit reporting agency in Fiji, the Data Bureau, which has not undertaken proper verification of the information provided to them nor has it put in place any credible system to correct their information. Complaints from the consumers have gone unheard by the Bureau. The FijiFirst Government is taking this matter head on, to find a solution for ordinary Fijians. Now more than ever it is important to have the Fair Reporting of Credit Act in place, as many consumers affected by TC Winston will be seeking access to credit. Their rights in this should be upheld.
New act provides transparent and accountable reporting of customer credit information
The Fair Reporting of Credit Act will put in place a legislative structure that provides for transparent and accountable reporting of customer information for credit purposes. The current credit reporting structure under the Data Bureau was self-regulated and had no transparent principles, lacked accountability, and most importantly lacked rules to protect the privacy of individuals. Furthermore, it has been noted that at times the information is incorrect, which has led to many Fijians not being able to access finances from lending institutions.
It is worth noting that the Data Bureau in a letter to the AttorneyGeneral have welcomed the Fair Reporting of Credit Act. Several users have highlighted that the explicit consent of the customers is missing and when consent is obtained it is done in a non-transparent manner and the customers are not informed of the implications of allowing the information to be uploaded on to Data Bureau.
Many complaints on Data Bureau
Consumer Council of Fiji has received a large number of systemicrelated complaints from customers. These included not being aware of consent being given to credit providers in terms of the information being provided to Data Bureau. This was mainly because the consent to allow credit information to be published on the Data Bureau is being bundled up with other requirements that needs a customers to provide consent on. Furthermore, an additional of 47 complaints were registered with the Consumer Council of Fiji regarding the direct conduct of Data Bureau and all these complaints have been referred to the Data Bureau. In this regard, the Data Bureau has been invited by the Consumer Council of Fiji for consultations on numerous occasions, such as the World Consumer Rights Day and Seminar on Hire Purchase Agreements but these invitations were declined by the Data Bureau. There have been concerns raised with regards to lack of consultation on the Fair Reporting of Credit Act, however, there was no consultation with the general public at the inception of Data Bureau. The shareholders of Data Bureau need to consult the general public more than relying on their advisors.
Customers have no avenue of recourse with Data Bureau
Furthermore, customers do not have recourse to an independent body that will address their complaints. Current practice of the Data Bureau is that all complaints are referred to the general manager of Data Bureau and if the customers are still unhappy, the complaints are referred to a complaints committee chaired by the general manager and two paid members. Making the theme; the judge, jury and executioner. This does not offer independent mechanism to resolve customer disputes and it was a clear conflict of interest on the part of the Data Bureau, as the complaints were against the Data Bureau and they, through the general manager, were an integral part of the complaints handling process. The only form of recourse that is available is through the court system but it is too expensive and drawn out for the ordinary Fijian.
No independence in credit reporting agency
It is more concerning that the shareholders of the Data Bureau are also owners or shareholders or banks and financial institutions in Fiji. Where is the independence of the credit reporting agency?
It is very interesting that the members of the Data Bureau claim that the concept was modelled on Credit Reporters concept of New Zealand. It is worth noting that the New Zealand Credit Reporters are bound by law, such as, a mandatory Credit Reporting Privacy Code and other reporting requirements.
In Fiji, if incorrect information was published a citizen could can only sue the Data Bureau for any loss of reputation, which for Fijians is a difficult process to undertake. Interestingly, the model (New Zealand) that the Data Bureau was supposedly following, allowed the customers the opportunity to report the incorrect information to the Consumer Reporter, and it is mandatory that the Credit Reporter corrects the information in 20 days. However, this level of fairness was not accorded to Fijian consumers who needed credit.
There have been concerns raised with regards to lack of consultation on the Fair Reporting of Credit Act, however, there was no consultation with the general public at the inception of Data Bureau.