Consumer protection laws under review to provide more teeth

People make a purchase at a provision shop at Geylang East on May 24, 2020. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Singapore's consumer protection laws may soon have more teeth, with the Government looking into strengthening the enforcement powers of the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS).

CCCS' assistant chief executive of legal, enforcement and consumer protection Lee Cheow Han said yesterday that this could entail empowering the commission to issue fines for breaches of consumer protection laws without having to go through the courts.

While the CCCS can currently issue such penalties to firms for infringements of the Competition Act, it is unable to do so in its consumer protection role.

In response to a question at a media conference, Mr Lee said there is scope for the CCCS to review its administration of the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act, and "perhaps take a look at having some additional statutory powers, so that there can be better and more effective enforcement of the Act".

Under the Act, the CCCS can investigate errant businesses and file an injunction application to order them to cease an unfair practice. If these businesses persist, they can be charged with contempt of court, which carries a fine of up to $10,000 and up to a year in jail.

But this can be a lengthy and ineffectual process.

The commission has been awarded two injunction orders since it took over the administration of the Act from Spring Singapore in 2018.

The first - against a car importer - took 16 months to be granted after the now-defunct Spring had applied for it. The second, against an online retailer, was granted in two months.

Observers have said that Singapore's consumer protection laws and enforcement powers need to be beefed up to be more effective. They noted that the country lags behind others like Australia, where breaches of consumer protection laws can incur hefty fines on a par with penalties for anti-competitive conduct.

Ms Sia Aik Kor, CCCS's chief executive, said the review is ongoing and more details will be announced later.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2020, with the headline Consumer protection laws under review to provide more teeth. Subscribe