Singapore has some catching up to do to ensure price transparency in the online travel booking sector, the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore's (CCCS) outgoing chief executive Toh Han Li told The Straits Times yesterday.
Practices commonly used here by travel websites, such as drip pricing, which adds fees in the checkout process, are outlawed in other countries such as Australia, he noted.
The price transparency guidelines proposed yesterday by the commission "have teeth", he said, as they spell out how it will enforce the law going forward.
"We want to be specific about what the expectations are for suppliers," he said.
The commission administers the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act, which lists more than 20 unfair practices that it can order an errant business to cease through the courts.
Mr Toh said that even though the commission does not have the power to levy fines, like some of its overseas counterparts do, the risk of reputational damage would likely serve as a deterrent to firms, especially larger ones, if told they were in breach.
He said that while he felt current consumer protection laws are sufficient, "whether or not penalties are remains to be seen, we need to do a bit more enforcement".
The market study released by the CCCS yesterday is the first to examine both competition and consumer protection issues since the competition regulator inherited the additional role from Spring Singapore in April last year.
More studies will look at both sides of the coin going forward as the agency seeks to further integrate its workflows, said Mr Toh.
"In any market, you have two sides - the seller and buyer. Now, we can also focus on the buyer," he said, adding that information and choice are key for a healthy market and consumer protection.
The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) remains the main point of contact for complaints, while the CCCS focuses on persistently errant businesses and issues with widespread impact.
Actions that the CCCS has taken in its consumer protection capacity over the past year include obtaining an injunction against car importer SG Vehicles, which had mounting complaints over issues such as misrepresentation, and rapping an eatery for promoting discounts without specifying an end date.
Other cases are currently under investigation, said Mr Toh, who said the agency relies on referrals from Case as well as its own monitoring.
But he will not be able to see them through, as he will be returning to the Singapore Legal Service to become a district judge, Mr Toh said in the interview on his last day as head of the agency.
Ms Sia Aik Kor, former deputy chief counsel (transactions and administration) in the civil division of the Attorney-General's Chambers, takes over today.
Mr Toh has overseen several high-profile infringement cases over the past six years, such as the "chicken cartel", where 13 fresh chicken distributors were fined a record $26.9 million for price fixing and non-compete agreements.
Ride-hailing firms Grab and Uber were also issued a $13 million fine last year after their merger here was ruled anti-competitive. While Grab has paid its share, Uber's remains suspended pending appeal.
Mr Toh said cases have become more complex over the years.
"We have covered so many industries that you tend to see the imprint of all the things you have done when you walk the street," he said.
"I think the satisfying thing about this area is that you touch upon a lot of daily issues and you can try to make a difference there."
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