AUSTRALIAN BANKS UNDER FIRE IN FIJI FOLLOWING FINDINGS

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SUVA, Fiji Islands (February 19, 1999 - PACNEWS/INCL)---Two Australian banks in Fiji are under heavy fire from politicians and unions following the release of a government-commissioned report sharply critical of their operations in Fiji.

Labour Party leader Mahendra Chaudhry said the Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) and Westpac banking corporations are the worst culprits, with far greater profit margins than lending organizations.

He was commenting on the report's assessment that ANZ and Westpac have far greater profit margins in Fiji than they do worldwide, maximizing profits in a market that lacks sufficient competition.

Bank Employees Union General Secretary Diwan Shankar said the unions have always known that the banks were doing this, especially in a depressed economy. He said there are many complaints of union members being abused by customers because of the banks' centralizing of their operations.

The report, the result of an inquiry ordered by the Government into Fiji's financial services sector, states that general public concern about high bank fees and charges are justified. It notes that the high level of bank profitability reflects the high interest rate spreads, fees and charges.

Opposition leader, Jai Ram Reddy said the report confirms long-held suspicions about bank practices.

What is important, he stressed, is that the government take decisive action on the report's findings, and, if necessary, make the banks comply with the recommendations.

The banks, including ANZ and Westpac, report they cannot comment on the report because they are yet to see a copy of it.

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