Measures to protect consumers being considered: Iswaran

The shuttered Mobile Air at Sim Lim Square. The mobile phone shop has been in the news for all the wrong reasons recently.
The shuttered Mobile Air at Sim Lim Square. The mobile phone shop has been in the news for all the wrong reasons recently. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER FILE

Measures to protect customers are being looked into, revealed Second Minister for Home Affairs S. Iswaran yesterday in the wake of public anger over Sim Lim Square businessman Jover Chew's mistreatment of his customers.

But it may take some time, "especially if we need changes to our laws", Mr Iswaran said as he urged people not to take matters into their own hands.

Last month, it was reported that Mr Chew had refunded a customer $1,010 in coins. Then last Monday, a Vietnamese visitor was videotaped getting down on his knees and crying as he begged for a refund at the shop.

Among those who reacted was Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, who wrote on his Facebook page last Thursday that changes to the law can be made to "better protect the vulnerable".

But some have engaged in an online campaign against Mr Chew, revealing his personal information.

Mr Iswaran wrote on his Facebook page that police are not just looking into reports regarding the Sim Lim Square case, but also a related report on harassment. The latter is believed to concern the online vigilantism against Mr Chew.

"We should allow due process to take its course," Mr Iswaran said.

Calling Mr Chew's actions "completely unacceptable", Law Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday said "bad conduct should be dealt with strictly". Speaking on the sidelines of an event, he noted the advisory issued by China warning its nationals to be careful in Singapore. He said: "Anytime people behave badly, even one incident, it can impact on the image of Singapore."

Referring to laws on cheating, he added: "My own view is that there are laws which can deal with that kind of conduct. I know the police are looking into it, and I know AGC is working with the police."

Last Friday, landlords at Sim Lim Square called for changes in the law so they can set up their own rules to allow them to reject undesirable tenants. But Mr Shanmugam said this needs to be studied carefully.

"There are hundreds of thousands of tenants in Singapore - and if it becomes easier for landlords to move them out on a variety of grounds, that could have substantial implications."

Lawyers whom The Sunday Times spoke to said the laws are largely sufficient. The Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act empowers consumers to take civil action against companies that have unfair trading practices.

Disgruntled buyers can go to the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) for mediation and, if that fails, turn to the Small Claims Tribunal. There is a need for both buyer and seller to be heard because there are errant parties on both sides, lawyers said.

But time, cost and stress can dissuade some from seeking justice, said Mr Justin Chan, a partner at Tito Isaac and Co. One change could be to allow tourists, who are often the target of shop scams, to be put on a fast track when seeking help from the Small Claims Tribunal, said Mr Sunil Singh Panoo, a lawyer at Dhillon and Partners.

Another is for powers to be given to the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority to "suspend businesses... found guilty of profiteering or deceitful conduct", said Ms Yasmeen J. Marican, a partner at Harry Elias.

Mr Iswaran yesterday said the more immediate action for the Government was to work with Case to educate consumers on their rights.

Sembawang GRC MP Vikram Nair, who is a lawyer, yesterday posted on Facebook of his shock at what Mr Chew allegedly did to the Vietnamese tourist. He wondered if Case should be given more bite by being able to issue fines.

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