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EDITORIAL - Remove that clausein credit-bureau bill

Published:Monday | March 8, 2010 | 12:00 AM

This newspaper appreciates the potential value of a credit-reporting system to the economy and, in that regard, supports the Government's effort to enact legislation to regulate the operation of credit bureaux in Jamaica.

Indeed, as government officials and financial-sector spokespersons have pointed out, maintaining credit profiles on borrowers and thereby attaching credit ratings to individuals will help to mitigate lending risks, enhance efficiency in the financial market and, hopefully, lower transactions costs.

We are, however, concerned that the bill passed by the House of Representatives a month ago, and is now before the Senate for review, contains provisions which, while seemingly benign and reasonable, pose grave dangers for the oversight of governance in Jamaica. The press, particularly, is at risk.

$2-million fine

Section 13 (5) of the proposed law is especially noxious, with its declaration that a "person who receives, uses or discloses credit information obtained by any person in contravention of this act commits an offence". The penalty for an offence under this clause would be a fine of $2 million, or a year or both.

On the face of it, this provision - like others in the proposed law - is aimed at protecting the confidentiality of financial information gathered by credit bureaux, whose employees, existing and past, will be explicitly obligated to maintain that trust, which is as it should be. But taking that obligation beyond those with a specific responsibility for the management and oversight of the system is, frankly, dangerous and made particularly egregious by the way this bill is framed.

Chilling effect

By merely receiving credit-related the information, an individual who was supposedly not entitled to have it could be taken to court, fined $2 million and dragged off to jail for a year. This, as we have warned before, can have a chilling effect on the performance of a free press seeking to fulfil its compact with the society to keep watch in favour of good governance.

If, for instance, the bill is passed in its current form and perchance this newspaper came to possess the credit ratings of Cabinet ministers or other officials, the managers and editors of The Gleaner Company would be guilty of an offence for which they could be fined and locked up. And that is even before that information, which would have significant public-interest value, is published. The obvious truth of the information would not mitigate the "offence".

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.