Sir, against the backdrop of debt collection harassment as a cause for concern, this Debt Collection Bill is apt and timely.
I would first like to commend how MHA has considered debt collection to be a legitimate activity that facilitates the fulfilment of financial obligations.
The proposed regulatory framework in my opinion achieves a balance between stemming undesirable conduct and avoiding being overly burdensome for the debt collection industry.
It is on this premise that I have some comments and clarifications.
Potential Differentiation under the Class Licensing Regime
Firstly, I welcome the class licensing regime set out in clause 14 of the Bill, which minimises the regulatory conditions on lower risk groups.
However, the group of businesses under the class licensing regime is a very large category, with organisations which vary widely in terms of their sophistication and debt collection processes. This category includes banks or credit card companies at one end and moneylenders or the smaller outfits on the other end.
Given that moneylenders are generally less sophisticated with fewer resources than banks, which are highly regulated, will MHA consider differentiating the class licenses – for example between the institutions that are MAS-regulated versus those that are not, so that licensing conditions are appropriate to the risk profile of the two groups?
Assessment of Fit and Proper under the Approval Regime
Next, as part of the approval regime under clause 20 of the Bill, prospective debt collectors for licensed debt collection companies will have to undergo a fit and proper assessment by the Police.
While criminal records are a relevant factor, it is also vital information for the debarment tenure to be well-calibrated. This is so it will be consistent with the principle that all ex-offenders deserve a second chance, as championed by Yellow Ribbon Singapore, as well as members in this House.
Referencing the security industry, I have engaged with my residents at Meet-the People sessions, who were keen to be security officers but were repeatedly rejected by SPF in their application for a licence. One claimed to have had a dated conviction of 15 years ago, and has since stayed crime-free, and had been proactive in equipping himself with the relevant skills; but still not successful in getting a license.
Therefore, can Minister clarify whether ex-offenders who have turned over a new leaf will be given a chance to work as security officers and specifically to this bill, as debt collectors in the new regime. If so, can Minister be clear on the parameters on what turning over a new leaf means, and which they can be reconsidered to work in such jobs.
Handling Malicious Complaints Against Debt Collectors
Moving on, in recognising that debt collection is a legitimate activity, I am also cognisant that some debtors can make malicious or frivolous complaints against well-behaved debt collectors to frustrate the debt collection process.
However, the truth of each complaint can only be established after investigations, which draws on police resources and potentially allow the debtor to delay the fulfilment of his/her financial obligations.
Can Minister share if there would be further safeguards against such complaints, in addition to levers in the Penal Code relating to provision of false information, to be fair to debt collection companies or collectors who conduct themselves well? And in this case, as MOS has earlier mentioned also, that complaints against debt collection companies will also be taken into account in the measurement of their behaviour.
Harassment Through Digital Means
Lastly, as communications and collection strategies shift to the digital realm, can Minister explain if the Bill will regulate undesirable debt collection activities conducted on online platforms, such as through messaging or social media?
Also, what are other levers available to counter online harassment by debt collectors, to ensure that such digital means will not be exploited as a regulatory gap for harassment of debtors?
Sir, in conclusion, I believe the regulatory framework introduced by the Bill will better address law and order concerns, protect the general public, as well as to professionalise the debt collection industry in the long run.
I support the Bill.
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