Laws to tackle scams

Reserve Bank of Fiji Deputy Governor Esala Masitabua (right) in a press conference in Suva last week on the Ebay Shop Fiji scam. Picture: ATU RASEA

Proper laws will soon be put in place to stop scams from spreading in Fiji in the future, said Minister for Trade Manoa Kamikamica.

This comes in the wake of the recent Ebay Shop Fiji pyramid scheme, which collapsed last week leaving thousands of Fijians with financial losses.

“Between all the agencies, since I came into office, all of them have told me we don’t have enough powers to actually do what we think we can do.

“So I think what you will find certainly in this government is there will be proper powers and teeth given to the agencies including the central bank so that we can be more assertive if you like, if this kind of issues emerge again,” Mr Kamikamica said.

The heavy toll and the scheme’s extensive reach had forced the trade ministry to form a Multi-Interagency Taskforce within days of the collapse, a move that was heavily criticized on social media for being “reactive”, given that the scheme had been operating in Fiji for over a year and its membership suspected to be in the tens of thousands.

Mr Kamikamica said this was because currently, the regulators cannot do anything until an official complaint was made.

“So as a commitment, I’ve mentioned it in government caucus this morning that we will be looking at the review of all the laws amongst the government agencies with a view to ensure that going forward, that they are appropriately equipped to be able to deal with this. Even the Online Safety Acting Commissioner will tell you that she doesn’t have much power at the moment to do anything as she can only report. So these are some of the things that we need to look at and try and fix it,” Mr Kamikamica said.

“We can’t just sit back and wait until somebody complains to the police because by then, as we’ve seen in this case, it’s affected a widespread number of people in Fiji.

“The regulators can’t act until somebody complains and that’s why there was this long period of non-intervention. Hopefully going forward, we can, or at least one regulator can just declare something as a scam and we stop it before the bleeding becomes very, very bad.”

Chaired by the trade ministry, the taskforce has as its members the Fiji Police Force, the Fijian Competition and Consumer Commission (FCCC), the Consumer Council of Fiji (CCoF) and the Reserve Bank of Fiji.

FCCC chief executive officer Joel Abraham stressed the importance of empowering Fijians to recognize and not fall prey to pyramid schemes.

“We want to be able to prevent this. That is the proactive measure which of course is sitting under the visionary leadership of the deputy prime minister and the idea is to be able to call these schemes out and say that we should have some legislative backing to go and shut shop,” Mr Abraham said.

“There is a very fine line between managing the confidence of investors or ease of doing business for economic growth and development and going around shutting businesses up.

“Because giving too much power to regulators to go and shut businesses up is not good for the economy as these powers can be susceptible to abuses. So there’s no way right now and in the future as well to say that a particular scheme that is originating, when it does originate that it is a pyramid scheme in nature.

“It could be a good investment scheme but it must be duly registered. And that’s why the taskforce is there because it allows for easier co-ordination between the agencies,” Mr Abraham added.

Ebay Shop Fiji’s collapse last week forced the closure of its offices in Suva, Nadi, Lautoka, Tavua, Labasa, Ba, Nausori and Sigatoka.

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