‘Data Bureau was self-reg­u­lated and didn’t pro­tect the pri­vacy of in­di­vid­u­als’

Fiji Sun - - Big Story - By Faiyaz Sid­diq Koya This is the full text of Min­is­ter for In­dus­try, Trade and Tourism Faiyaz Sid­diq Koya’s state­ment dur­ing a press con­fer­ence on Mon­day, May 2, 2016, on the work­ings of the re­cent­ly­passed Fair Re­port­ing of Credit Act.

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.

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