Why It Matters

VW scandal: In regulators we trust

The emission scandal is devastating to the Volkswagen (VW) brand name. For consumers though, the damning episode is proof yet again that they should read labels with a pinch of salt.

From health supplements found to contain nothing but useless fillers to apartments that are smaller than declared, end users have been duped so regularly that it is not funny.

So, what happens when consumers cannot trust purveyors of goods and services? In reality, nothing much. Which is why we have powerful regulators.

We trust the Health Sciences Authority to ensure that the medicine we are taking does not contain unacceptable levels of arsenic. We trust the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority to ensure that the vegetables we import have permissible levels of pesticide. We trust the Land Transport Authority to make sure cars imported are roadworthy.

In the case of insidious dangers in the air that we breathe, it is always good to know we have the National Environment Agency (NEA) to safeguard our interest. But as we have seen in the VW case, environmental agencies all over the world have been duped - not just the NEA.

What may be a little disturbing is how the NEA responded initially when the VW scandal unfolded. The agency said fairly quickly that affected vehicles were not imported to Singapore, despite readily available information that there was a high likelihood to the contrary. As events have proven, there are over 650 VW vehicles in Singapore that are indeed fitted with emission-cheating software.

So what, you may ask, when the Indonesian haze fills our lungs with more soot over a lifetime than about 600 diesel cars.

Well, that is not the point. The NEA - like all other regulators here - has a job to do. Unlike ordinary consumers, it has resources on hand to do that job well, to go beyond labels, and to take errant parties to task. Failing to do so just chips away at the Singapore brand name.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2015, with the headline VW scandal: In regulators we trust. Subscribe