MPs call for stiffer laws to tackle errant retailers

They want tougher enforcement, powers to probe recalcitrant shops

Mobile Air's Jover Chew being interviewed about refunding a customer $1,010 in coins.
Mobile Air's Jover Chew being interviewed about refunding a customer $1,010 in coins.PHOTO: NEW PAPER FILE

Two Members of Parliament are pushing for stiffer regulation and stronger powers to deal with errant retailers who bully and cheat consumers.

They are doing so after a series of reports of retailers at electronics mall Sim Lim Square using unsavoury sales tactics on customers.

Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Liang Eng Hwa slammed the actions of the retailers, calling the situation unacceptable.

"I find the current situation unacceptable. I believe more can be done to improve the practices and ultimately the image and reputation of our retailers," said Mr Liang, who is also the chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Finance and Trade and Industry.

Mr Liang added that he has suggested to the Ministry of Trade and Industry that they review existing consumer protection laws.

"We should step up enforcement and investigative powers of the relevant agencies to deal with the small minority of recalcitrants," said Mr Liang.

Currently, consumers are protected by the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act (CPFTA), which empowers consumers to take civil action against companies. The Act also sets out a list of specific unfair trade practices and empowers consumers to seek civil remedies.

As for firms which attempt to escape penalties by setting up a new business under a different name, Mr Liang said the Government should consider enhancing the law to take care of this aspect.

Mountbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan, who is also the president of the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case), is also looking to raise the issue in Parliament.

In particular, he will be asking whether the police can look more closely into complaints against these retailers.

And like Mr Liang, Mr Lim is also pushing for amendments to the CPFTA.

In the meantime, he said Case is limited by current legislation and that they can take only civil action such as issuing court orders against such companies.

However, in cases involving a breach of criminal law, such as cheating, then it is the police who should prosecute the recalcitrant retailers.

He said: “Police prosecution will send a strong signal to retailers who are dishonest and show that they cannot take advantage of innocent consumers.”

Mr Lim said that Case will continue to work with the management of Sim Lim Square to highlight errant retailers to the public.

Yesterday, Case released an updated list of 10 shops which had the most complaints made about them from August to last month. This is up from the seven shops on the list from July to September.

When The Straits Times visited Sim Lim yesterday, a sales employee from a blacklisted retailer on the second level said sales tactics have to be “creative” to stand out from the “strong competition”.

"In any case, tourists from these countries do not get the iPhone 6 so early. So it’s ok to charge them higher prices," he said.

Raising awareness about such errant shops is important, said a spokesman for the Singapore Retailers Association.

He added: “Their actions will certainly tarnish the image of the local retail industry, to both tourists and locals.

"Publicity is an essential part of dealing with such practitioners, as consumers will vote with their feet."

Additional reporting by Aw Cheng Wei