A bill that would boost mobile commerce by regulating the electronic transfer of funds for both the public and private sectors passed unanimously Tuesday in the House of Assembly.
Bipartisan supporters of the Electronic Transfer of Funds Act, 2019 said the law — which now awaits Governor John Rankin’s assent — would help modernise the territory’s financial infrastructure.
Furthermore, they added, it would empower sister islands residents to conduct business more cheaply and efficiently and provide businesses with the regulatory infrastructure they need to handle digital transactions.
In addition, it will ideally be a further step toward implementing e-government reforms that have long been promised, they said.
Premier Andrew Fahie introduced the bill for its second reading on Friday by saying it is part of a suite of measures, including the recently passed Data Protection Act, designed to allow the VI to “move in a more modern climate.”
Although e-transactions are already common in the private sector, he said, the bill allows businesses “to mushroom their business and have legal support that will be able to allow protection [within] the confines of the law.”
Representatives from the sister islands emphasised that facilitating e transactions would ease their constituents’ lives and pocketbooks.
Opposition member Mitch Turnbull (R-D2) noted that a trip from the sister islands, for those who have no choice but to do business in person on Tortola, can cost up to $120.
“And that cost, Mr. Speaker, is not one that comes easy, is not one, especially now dealing with Covid-19, that you can say, ‘Well, it’s just $120.’ [We are] dealing with persons who are or have been out of employment for just about a year. Plus, Mr. Speaker, $120 on Virgin Gorda, Anegada or Jost van Dyke is a lot of money in these times.”
Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration Minister Vincent Wheatley (R-D9) called the bill a “game-changer,” especially as his ministry continues to work to implement long-promised e-government reforms.
“As we try and endeavour to modernise and reform public service, this is going to be a vital part. Mr. Speaker, we are working feverishly to get, for example, work permits online,” he said.
“This is going to make a lot more sense, because in the first phase as soon as you put it online for application, well, you don’t have to go into the office to pay, because now you can do the full thing online [and] only upload the application.”
Transportation, Works and Utilities Minister Kye Rymer (R-D5) said the electronic transactions bill and the Data Protection Act would “complement each other” in order to safeguard transactions.
“We want to modernise the system we work in, to have all the databases in place so that persons would be able to do some of their transactions online whether locally or internationally,” said Mr. Rymer, who used to head the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Mr. Fahie added that the bill “will allow us to help our people who want to do business with the government from anywhere in the world, especially with payments. It will assist our sister islands brothers and sisters.”
The bill also includes penalties for various offences related to the theft, forgery and other dishonest use of a credit card, debit card, bank card or smart card.
Under the bill, it would be an offence to fraudulently obtain or use a card; knowingly receive or use a fraudulently obtained card; receive goods or services obtained with a fraudulent card; or make or use forged or counterfeit cards.
Another clause would “restrict the liability of a cardholder who has lost possession of his or her card to a sum of not more than $100,” provided that they notify their financial institution within two days of the card’s loss.
Still another clause would prevent a financial institution from disclosing a cardholder’s name, addresses or card number without the cardholder’s written consent.
Besides providing increased protections from fraud, Mr. Fahie suggested that the legislation could stimulate e-commerce.
“I always tell persons that once you have increased efficiency and effectiveness, you’ll also be able to increase revenues, because persons will always gravitate towards any organisation as effective and efficient, and also with the right price,” he said. “Once they know that any system that they are operating from is going to operate in an efficient, effective, transparent, secure manner, Mr. Speaker, they don’t mind even paying a little more.”
Junior Minister for Tourism Sharie de Castro (R-at large) said that this thinking rings true for her as a millennial who prefers to conduct transactionsonline, and that she believes that other young people need to feel more confidence that their transactions will be safe.
The bill “speaks to the youthfulness of us in understanding the century that we are in, and then understanding how we need to move things forward to ensure that we are not 20 years behind,” she added.