Fitz ready for a fight

BUOYED by the recent passage of legislation by the British Parliament setting guaranteed services which banks must provide to their customers, Member of Parliament [MP] for St Catherine Southern Fitz Jackson has called on the Government to open debate on the banking Bill which he has tabled in Parliament.

“The Bill is currently on the Order Paper of Parliament and the Government has refused to put it on the agenda so that we can vote on it again,” Jackson told the Jamaica Observer in reference to the proposed amendment to the Banking Services Bill which he re-tabled after the initial proposed legislation was voted down by a Government majority in 2018.

“I challenge the Leader of Government Business in the House [of Representatives Edmund Bartlett], I challenge the Prime Minister [Andrew Holness], to put that Bill on the agenda of Parliament at the next sitting when we resume from the summer break.

“It is already there on the Order Paper so let us have the MPs vote with their conscience and we will see who will have the courage to protect the Jamaican people,” declared Jackson who sits on the Opposition benches.

He pointed to a British Government statement published on August 18 which sets out the minimum expectations on banks to protect services for people and businesses wanting to withdraw or deposit cash.

Under the new British law the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has been provided new powers to protect the provision of cash access services. This includes protecting cash access without any fees for those who hold personal current accounts.

Building on laws granted through the Government’s Financial Services and Markets Act, 2023, the FCA will use these new powers to make sure banks and building societies are keeping up to the established standards.

British Economic Secretary to the Treasury Andrew Griffith said: “Whilst the growing choice and convenience of digital payments is great, cash has an important and continuing role to play. That’s why we are taking action to protect access to cash in law and laying out that this means fee-free withdrawals and the availability of cash facilities within a reasonable distance.”

Griffith added: “People shouldn’t have to trek for hours to withdraw a tenner [£10] to put in someone’s birthday card — nor should businesses have to travel large distances to deposit cash takings.”

In applauding the British Government, Jackson underscored that free access to cash is one of the provisions that the Bill which he tabled in Parliament seeks to ensure.

“We need to acknowledge that there is an imperative where people who put their money in financial institutions should have free unbridled access to that cash which belongs to them rightfully,” said Jackson.

He argued that the banks have access to money deposited by their customers and use that money to make super profits while penalising depositors by charging them a fee to do withdrawals.

“What the British Government has done is to say not only must you not be penalised by paying a fee to access your money, it should be accessible, meaning it must be made available at convenient points for you to have it.

“In Jamaica we see where many banks, which report billions and billions of dollars in profit annually, are closing access points to their customers right across the country because they do not want to spend money to provide the convenience to their customers to access their banking services.

“Even in the absence of operating branches, there is still a gross inadequacy of ATMs across the country that people can access their money,” added Jackson.

He argued that the British Government has decided to respond to the needs of the public while the Holness Administration has instead decided to protect the interests of the banks without requiring them to provide a minimum set of services at no charge.

Jackson has already filed four claims before the court seeking a declaration that the charging of encashment fees by banks is a breach of the Bills of Exchange Act.

He filed the lawsuit after a May 2019 incident in which he claimed he was compelled to pay a $385 fee before a teller at Scotiabank’s Portmore branch would cash a $2,500 cheque in his name.

He is seeking a declaration from the court that Scotiabank, through the imposition of the fee, has breached its obligation by failing to honour a negotiable instrument.

Efforts to settle the lawsuit through mediation have failed.