E-commerce ‘code of conduct’ bill approved
May 8, 2015
E-commerce ‘code of conduct’ bill approved

A bill setting out codes of conduct for entities engaging in e-commerce in St Vincent and the Grenadines and the recognition of electronic documents and signatures has been passed in the House of Assembly.

The Electronic Transaction Bill 2015, which is part of a suite of bills relating to e-governance and e-commerce, was tabled in the House of Assembly on April 30 by Minister of Information Technology Camillo Gonsalves.{{more}}

Gonsalves said the Bill, which consists of 11 parts, is divided into 42 clauses which speak to documents that exist in paper form being recognized in their electronic format, the sending of such domuments electronically and electronic signatures having equal weight in most cases as one’s own written signature. The Bill also addresses codes of conduct for e-commerce providers who wish to engage in e-commerce in this country. It also contains a number of consumer protection provisions.

Opposition senators Vynette Frederick and Linton Lewis both commended the Bill in some respects and noted the importance of it being implemented in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

“We on the opposition benches fully appreciate the importance of embracing technology and the use and the creation of technology in the form of apps, programmes…” Frederick said.

The senator, in her debate, noted that work had been done in 2007 to introduce a bill similar to the current Electronic Transactions Bill, but it had never been implemented. She further stated that her issue with the legislation lies with the Government’s ability to sell to the population, the importance of having such a bill passed.

The senator stated that it was not her intent to criticize the Government; however, she suggested that the Government’s priority may be elsewhere when it comes to seeking the population’s “buy-in” of the bill.

“The challenge is always bridging the gap between those who have no clue about what this technological world is and those for whom it is second nature. There is no selling to the people, so that they appreciate the culture, the change in culture that has to take place for us to really benefit from what legislation like this is intended to do,” she said.

Senator Linton Lewis commended the clauses that were in place for consumer protection, particularly those that dealt with suppliers providing comprehensive information on transactions with a buyer and the buyer’s right to return a product within a 7-day period if he/she is unsatisfied.

Lewis’ indicated that his issue was with the fines that went along with breaking the rules within the legislation.

“I don’t know Mr Speaker, but I find them to be very harsh and very high,” he declared.

“A punishment must fit the crime. I am not too certain…of any transaction or any serious problems in which someone has suffered any great loss or great penalty as a result of doing business on the Internet. If that were the case, then one would understand and appreciate that there is a mischief or there is something that has happened that one needs to correct or deter. And if that is so, I suppose that these fines of $250,000 and $500,000 and $50,000, I think they could have been justifiable.”

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves and Minister of Agriculture Saboto Caesar also participated in the debate.

The Prime Minister disclosed that Senator Lewis was absent at both select committee meetings that were held to discuss the Electronic Transactions Bill.

“When I hear misrepresentations and when I hear some transparent politicking, based on false premises, particularly in a year like this one, I have to speak,” the Prime Minister said.

Reading from Clause 40 of the Act, the Prime Minister highlighted the difference between fines for an individual and an enterprise that is caught contravening the laws laid out in the document.

“They can be from relatively trivial to very, very serious and we need the court to determine. In this bill, Parliament…will provide matters which court must take into account in dealing with the fine. It’s not just something in the air that you say this is too much or too little.”

The Prime Minister also addressed the Government’s philosophy on information technology, stating that their philosophy is hinged on enhancing social life and well-being by increasing wealth and job creation to uplift the condition of people’s lives.

He also observed that this philosophy is seen repeatedly in public documents, speeches by former ministers of technology and even in their election manifestos. (BK)