Sunday, 1 October 2023

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Is the POHA an instrument for debtors to get away?

by Roger Rajan on behalf of JMS Rogers
The Protection from Harassment Act, (POHA) was enacted in 2014 to provide a range of criminal and civil remedies against harassment, and civil remedies for false statements of facts. POHA has been an important legislative tool in protecting victims of harassment by giving them effective redress.
If you take a detailed look into the various sections of the Act you will be able to notice that the words harassment and threats are used every so often.
However, what the Act fails to produce is the true meaning or harassment and threat. The meaning of threat and harassment till date remains extremely vague and ambiguous. What may constitute as harassment to one may not constitute as harassment to the other. What has given meaning to the word harassment is through past precedence from case law.
How this affect Debt Collection Agencies?
In recent times ever since this Act was tabled, many debtors have been blatantly misusing it. When field enforcement officers visit the place of residences or office premises of the debtors, they would pick up the phone straight away and call for the police, claiming that these field officers are harassing them!
From a neutral, unbiased point of view, we have to agree that there are, indeed, a few debt collection agencies who have flagrantly fouled the code of conduct governing our agencies in the past and present. However, most of us out there strictly abide by the rule of law and the code of conducts. How does knocking a debtor’s door to request payment constitute to harassment?
When we humbly call and request for debtors and our clients to come to our office to settle the disputed amounts amicably, they (the debtors) are not forthcoming to do so and report to the police that we are threatening them that if they do not accede to our humble request we will have to visit them. This would be justified if we lambasted them but we always ask politely in our calls.
To raise a pertinent issue, we have numerous times encounters where debtors call the police on us and then tell the police to have us bring this case to court. For a debt amount of $500, do you think that it is worth the hassle? These are true encounters and the poor lenders who engage our services are still toiling hard at the age of 70 washing dishes at the kopitiam or struggling to put food on the table.  Do you think it is fair for such lenders to be put through all these traumas and still be liable to fork out the costs involved for bringing this issue to court in the hope of getting their hard-earned monies back?
When debtors do not wish to settle the debts and try to crawl their way out of liability, they end up taking Protection Orders against the debt enforcement agency. While the courts do not grant these orders without sufficient evidence, it will still take time before the court could decide on the case. In the meanwhile, it serves as a temporary refuge to the debtors, all at the expense of the lenders.
These are all the games that scammers and debtors play to ward us off, the debt collectors away so that they hide behind the cloaks of the police while the party who suffers are those who lent money to them.
Now let us reverse this situation around and look at this situation from the angle of the lender.
When people pester for a loan, the lenders receives constant calls every 5 minutes to numerous texts flooding their WhatsApp inbox. People who have been hardly existent in their lives, start sharing intimate and sentimental details of their lives. Can we then report these people under the POHA? Because technically and rightfully, without such pressure and harassment, the lenders would not have lend them the money in the first place.
As explained above there is no concrete meaning to the word harassment and threat. A quick search on google for the meaning of harassment shows “Harassment covers a wide range of behaviours of an offensive nature. It is commonly understood as behaviour that demeans, humiliates or embarrasses a person, and it is characteristically identified by its unlikelihood in terms of social and moral reasonableness”.
We still believe in justice and we will strive for the best of our clients and also abide by the law and directions which are encapsulated in our code of conducts. We also respect the police force and have always abided the laws, however, do you think that it is fair that such debtors are wasting taxpayers’ money and the police resources in such a manner? That they can seek cover and protection from the police under the use of the Act? Trying to absolve their obligations in paying what they owe?

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