Unpaid loan arrests should continue: review
Police should continue arresting people who have fallen behind on loan repayments, despite protests from law enforcement officials that the practice drains their resources, according to a Samoa Law Reform Commission report.
Police have argued that executing "warrants of committal", a legal requirement under the Judgement Summonses Act (J.S.A.) of 1965, benefited the interests of commercial banks - not taxpayers.
The recommendation is made by the Samoa Law Reform Commission (S.L.R.C.) in its review of the Act in a 64 page report that has been tabled before the Parliament.
The S.L.R.C. says calls for reform of the Act’s provisions relating to the arrest of indebted people were prompted by a Samoa Observer story. In March 2017, this newspaper reported on the case of a mother and her two-month-old baby held at the Tafaigata Prison for not paying their loans.
“The presence of an infant in this scenario raised concerns by the public and also the (then) President of the Samoa Law Society who all shared the same view for legislative reform to remove the term of imprisonment as a means of punishment for non-payment of a debt,” the report says.
“The [Act] was viewed as an archaic law and it must be removed.”
Concerns from agencies such as the Ministry of Police and the Samoa Prisons and Correctional Services related to the provision’s drain on their limited resources.
The Commission carried out preliminary research from November 2018 to March 2019. Preliminary consultations were carried out with the Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration (M.J.C.A.), which administers the Act, last April.
The report says there were strong views from public submissions including the implementation of stringent rules to regulate lending to ensure that those intending to borrow are able to repay back the money.
“The Commission understands that each loan company or business has its own rules to regulate lending requirements,” the report said.
The S.L.R.C. says the framework of the current Act should be retained because it is useful in pursuing debts.
“The lending rules and requirements of financial institutions and lenders should be reviewed against the current rules and practices. This includes a review of the Penalty Interest Rate Act 1998. The administrator of the Penalty Interest Rate Act 1998 must review the appropriateness of this Act to the context of Samoa.”
Under the law as it stands, Police execute warrants against indebted persons.
“As indicated earlier, there is overwhelming support from submissions to retain the role of Constables in executing the warrants of committal,” the report said.
“The Police disagrees on the basis that executing [warrants puts] a strain on their resources and manpower.
“To address these concerns, the Police have suggested that a cost for executing warrants (10 per cent fee of the debt imposed upon the creditor).”
The S.L.R.C. recommended that Police or Constables should continue to execute warrants of committal but it noted there was scope for Police to be compensated for their time.
“The M.J.C.A. [...can] provide for a cost for services rendered by MOP in the execution of warrants,” the report said.
“This is evidence that the J.S.A. 1965 is to date being used to its potential. Given the statistics, the relevant Government Ministries need to push for more funding and resources to implement the J.S.A., and the government to consider more assistance is given to these administering Offices.”