Finance Minister Colm Imbert expected to have an answer late on Tuesday about whether or not it is legal or illegal for businesses to refuse to accept old $100 notes. Imbert told the Senate he was awaiting advice from two senior counsel on “whether you can compel somebody to take a particular note.”
Imbert was responding to questions from Opposition Senator Wade Mark. who asked what arrangements the government had put in place to address this problem. He said as Finance Minister, he would ask the Central Bank governor see what arrangements can be made for merchants who wish to turn in old notes close to the end of the year. “I am being advised, because it’s a bit of a complicated matter, but that is the plan,” he told the Senate.
Since the introduction of a new polymer $100 bill was announced last Thursday, some businesses have said they will not accept the old paper-based $100 bill because it was inconvenient. The new bills were made available from Tuesday through commercial banks. Customers arrived at banks from early on Tuesday morning, with long queues extending well beyond branch doors. Mark, in his supplemental question, specificially asked if it was legal or illegal for businesses to refuse notes offered.
“Can businesses automatically, whimsically refuse $100 bills?” The exisiting cloth/paper note is legal tender, Imbert said, and will be until December 31. Legal tender, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, refers to coins or banknotes that must be accepted if offered in payment of a debt. “The issue is whether in a private transaction, because it’s a transaction between two private parties, whether you can compel somebody to take a particular note. For example, a person may not have change.
“I am being advised and I think I will receive proper legal advice later in the afternoon,” Imbert said. He said the two senior counsel will advise based on other jusridictions which have engaged in demonetisation (removing a currency from circulation). “But I want to stress it is a private transaction between a private individual and we have to look at that and see.” He also noted the Attorney General advises the government on legal matters. “I don’t want to step out of my crease and give a definitive answer at this point in time,” he said.
Newsday contacted the Office of the Financial Ombudsman, which said refusing legal tender was “incorrect,” and while that office dealt with complaints from the public aboutfinancial institutions, suggesed any complaint or query should be taken to the Consumer Affairs Division or a chamber of commerce. The Consumer Affairs Division, a unit of the Ministry of Trade, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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