Sun, Oct 23, 2011 - Page 3 News List

Lawyer urges revision of law on debt

Staff Writer, with CNA

An attorney representing a credit card debtor self-help group on Friday urged the legislature to pass an amendment that would establish a clear set of criteria to help courts determine whether debt holders can reduce or clear their debts.

Lin Yung-sung (林永頌), a lawyer and consultant for the self-help group, said at a press conference that while Japan has clear evaluation criteria for judges to follow, Taiwan’s Consumer Debt Clearance Act (消費者債務清理條例) is vague, leaving it open to arbitrary rulings that are usually favorable to creditors.

Lin said Taiwan’s approval rate for debt settlement applications — an approach to debt reduction — stands at 24 percent and that of debt exemption applications is less than 10 percent, compared with more than 90 percent in Japan.

He urged passage of a proposed revision submitted by Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Chen Chieh-ju (陳節如), saying that it would help raise approval rates for the reduction of credit card debt. Lin said the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) had proposed a competing version of the amendment, but he described it as still being relatively vague on criteria to decide such cases.

Chikako Akita, one of two Japanese lawyers Lin invited to the press conference to share Japan’s experience in consumer debt clearance, said that in her country, after debtors file for bankruptcy, their lifestyles are observed by a bankruptcy trustee who then files a report on their behavior with the court.

Akita said more than 90 percent of applications for debt exemptions are approved in Japan because the judges consider not only the opinions of the creditor, but also the report from the debt trustee.

Aside from the trustee’s report, she said there was also a clear system for judges to evaluate granting a debt exemption that focuses on the intentions and attitudes of the debtors and the need for the exemption, as well as the original reasons behind their borrowing.

Tatsuya Kimura, a lawyer and the representative secretary of Credit and Salakin Taikyo, Japan, a national coalition for fair consumer credit, said the credit card debt issue was prevalent in Japan, the US and Europe, but there was now an understanding that debtors are not the only ones to be blamed for excesses.

Kimura said some of the causes of credit card debt are poverty, unemployment and underemployment — situations that are not necessarily the fault of an individual. He said it took about 30 years for activists to change the outlook of Japan’s relatively conservative judges and help debtors get a second chance.

Lin participated in two 44-hour hunger strikes in front of the Legislative Yuan from last Sunday to Tuesday and from Tuesday to Thursday with anti-poverty groups.

The sit-in protests were led by Anti-Poverty Alliance founder Chien Hsi-chieh. Chien on Thursday called on the government to quickly pass amendments to the country’s housing, student loan and consumer debt clearance laws to help the nation’s 800,000 credit card debtors, 400,000 student loan holders and salaried employees who have difficulty affording increasingly expensive housing in the country.

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