The Public Defender addressed the National Bank on the basis of TDI’s statement
Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI) represents the interests of Nigerian citizens, who have been refused to receive service by the Bank of Georgia allegedly on discrimination grounds. The Public Defender of Georgia examined TDI’s statement and addressed the National Bank of Georgia with general recommendation.
In April 2016, S.A.O, citizen of Nigeria referred to TDI about the alleged discrimination against him. The JSC Bank of Georgia restricted citizens of Nigeria living in Georgia the right to use bank accounts and public transportation cards. As a result, citizens of Nigeria could not control their own funds via bank accounts, they were impeded to travel by public transport with the exemptions available for other students and their rights guaranteed by the law were restricted.
To be noted, JSC Bank of Georgia has an exclusive right to issue a card that can be used both for public transportation as well as for banking services. Besides, only such card allows the passenger benefits provided by the state for students. No other administrative body or a private law entity can issue the same card. According to the decision of Tbilisi Municipality Sakrebulo, passenger benefits are applicable to students of Tbilisi’s higher education institutions. Consequently, students who do not have a bank account and a so-called "student card" attached to it will not be able to use the benefits provided by the legislation.
The applicant tried to open a bank account at JSC Bank of Georgia several times in February 2016, but the Bank requested him to provide a recommendation from the US, Australia, Canada and/or EU banks. S.A.O was not able to fulfil this request, since he did not have any kind of connection to the listed countries’ commercial banks.
On April 8, 2016, TDI addressed the Public Defender of Georgia and the National Bank of Georgia and provided the information on the factual and legal circumstances of the case. According to the National Bank of Georgia, after communicating with TDI, they recommended Bank of Georgia to eliminate the alleged discriminative approach and to come up with the systematic solution of the problem.
Afterward, in May 2016 Bank of Georgia informed TDI that S.A.O would be able to open a bank account and own a student card. As it turned out, the bank opened the accounts for the students where the transactions are able only in national currency. Therefore, problem was resolved not systematically, but only partially and for the specific individuals whose rights had been protected by TDI. In addition, it still is a problem for Nigerian citizens to open and use bank accounts in other currency.
In 2016 TDI addressed the Bank of Georgia with an official letter with the request to specify the grounds for unequal treatment and to provide the information about the prevention and the measures to be taken for a systematic solution of the problem.
With the letter of May 18, 2016, The Bank of Georgia informed TDI that Nigerian citizens are considered high risk clients and the usage of student cards by citizens of Nigeria is often not related to the payment of transportation fees. According to the Bank, there were cases when Nigerian individuals were detained for illegally importing and selling drugs in Georgia. Consequently, while opening the account, the bank sets a mandatory criterion - to obtain recommendations from the commercial banks registered in the US, Europe, Canada or Australia.
Based on the above-mentioned facts, it may be concluded that the Bank’s request for opening a bank account - the recommendations from commercial banks of foreign countries is directly related to the alleged discriminatory motive and national belongings of Nigerian citizens. It is inadmissible that the alleged offense committed by one person to extend over all persons representing the same nation or ethnic group. Despite of the obligation of the Bank to assess the risks associated with their client, discrimination on the basis of national belonging grounds of persons is unjustified and violates the rights of the representatives of the specific group.
According to the general proposal of April 4, 2018 the Public Defender of Georgia considered that obliging people from specific countries to submit such recommendations (documents) that they objectively do not have opportunity to provide, is a disparate treatment from JSC Bank of Georgia.
According to the Public Defender’s assessment, commercial banks have superficially used the legitimate procedure of client scrutiny, that led to the alleged violation of the rights of decent consumers.
The Public Defender addressed the National Bank of Georgia with the general proposal:
- To request from the Bank of Georgia, besides implementing the necessary procedures for preventing money laundering and terrorism financing, to give foreign students an opportunity to open a bank account through which they will be able to receive and/or send money.
To request from commercial banks to give an opportunity to the clients to provide alternative documents and information, on the basis of which the proper inspection of the banking service consumer will not be depended on presenting of only one specific document.
To develop easily foreseeable regulations that guarantee receiving services in commercial banks by foreigners without discrimination, regardless of any grounds.
TDI continuous monitoring of the process and hopes that the recommendations of the Public Defender will be taken into consideration and the services provided by commercial banks will comply with human rights standards.
TDI provides legal aid in the frame of the project “Combating Religious, Ethnic and Racial Discrimination in Georgia” in the framework of East-West Management Institute’s (EWMI) Promoting Rule of Law in Georgia Program (PROLoG) funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)