Consumer and employment disputes can be resolved by independent party: Hri Kumar

Getting the police involved in consumer disputes may not be the best way to resolve the issue, says Bishan-Toa Payoh MP Hri Kumar Nair in light of the Sim Lim Square saga. -- ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG
Getting the police involved in consumer disputes may not be the best way to resolve the issue, says Bishan-Toa Payoh MP Hri Kumar Nair in light of the Sim Lim Square saga. -- ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

SINGAPORE - Getting the police involved in consumer disputes may not be the best way to resolve the issue, Bishan-Toa Payoh MP Hri Kumar Nair said on Monday evening.

This is because of serious practical difficulties that the police face in tackling such issues, such as lack of clarity in determining criminal conduct and the difficulty in establishing evidence.

"In many cases, the evidence will be difficult to establish, and it will be a case of I-said-he-said. It will also be unclear if the conduct is criminal," he said.

"Bringing criminal charges is a serious matter which may affect someone's livelihood and reputation," he said, pointing to customers who were less than honest.

"There are after-all less-than-honest customers as well and it would be wrong for the police to act on the presumption that the customer is always right."

There is also the issue of whether the police, given its tight resources, can afford to get involved in all complaints.

"We would therefore insist that all complaints are investigated thoroughly. That means devoting significant policing resources to what will likely be numerous and relatively small claims. Our boys in blue are already over-stretched," he said.

Mr Nair was responding to suggestions that have been making its rounds on tackling the problem of errant retailers and raising consumer protection, an issue which has sparked to life last week.

News broke that a Vietnamese tourist was scammed by Mr Jover Chew, owner of a mobile phone shop in Sim Lim.

Currently, these disputes can be resolved by going to the Small Claims Tribunal, but Mr Nair mooted a simpler process that does not rely on formal rules or procedures.

This includes the setting up of a tribunal, staffed by a "well qualified senior", to mediate consumer and employment disputes.

Citing how construction disputes are settled in a similar way, through hearings before a non-legally trained professional, such as an architect, Mr Nair said in a Facebook post: "There is no reason why we cannot have a similar, simple... process for disputes which most individuals are likely to encounter, namely consumer and employment matters."

An independent person, or adjudicator, will first make a decision on the case, Mr Nair said. If either party disagrees with the initial ruling, they can resort to more formal court processes, but must first comply with the adjudicator's decision.

"In other words, if the adjudicator finds that a customer has been wronged, the business owner has to pay up first before he can take the case further. I suspect most will not," he said. If the independent party finds dishonest conduct, the case can then be referred to the police, or other government agencies, for further action and investigation, he added.

Rounding off the post, Mr Nair said that Singapore has many seniors who can act as adjudicators, as several now do as mediators in the Community Mediation Centres.

He added: "One final suggestion - for convenience, we can locate one of the offices of the adjudicator at Sim Lim Square."