Why It Matters

Watchdog's bite, consumers' gain

Singapore's competition watchdog has made its presence felt in recent weeks, meting out punishment to errant businesses, flagging high-profile mergers and taking action to encourage greater price transparency and save motorists money.

The Competition Commission of Singapore (CCS) fined four electronics companies a record total of $19.5 million last week for fixing the price of electrical components.

It also concluded two market studies last month that yielded good news for drivers.

An inquiry into the supply of car parts resulted in the CCS working with major vehicle dealers to remove warranty restrictions. This will allow drivers to fix their cars at independent workshops, which often charge less than authorised ones, without voiding warranties.

And after finding that petrol prices are not transparent enough, the CCS said it will work with stakeholders to develop a price comparison platform that could save motorists about $40 million a year.

The flurry of activity comes as the CCS is set to gain new powers and play a bigger role in consumer protection. It is seeking feedback on proposed changes to the Competition Act that would provide for confidential advice, legally binding commitments and a more efficient investigative process.

Another key change comes in April, when Spring Singapore merges with International Enterprise Singapore to form Enterprise Singapore. The CCS will then assume Spring's oversight of consumer protection.

In recent years, the CCS has broadened its scope to do more studies, which look beyond infringement to identify market factors that are not working well and recommend fixes. Its report on the milk formula industry last May, for example, led to a series of government measures to address the issue of high prices.

With such studies already helping to address consumer issues at the policy level, the agency's expanded role bodes well for consumers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 10, 2018, with the headline 'Watchdog's bite, consumers' gain'. Print Edition | Subscribe