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    Jan 20, 2015

    Stronger laws to tackle errant retailers

    CONSUMER protection laws will be strengthened to prevent errant retailers from starting new companies, said Teo Ser Luck, Minister of State for Trade and Industry, yesterday.

    He said this while fielding questions raised in Parliament about recalcitrant shop owners and trading practices - issues that have been under scrutiny since October, after several incidents involving questionable sales tactics, particularly in Sim Lim Square, made local and international headlines.

    The most infamous case involved retailer Mobile Air's owner, Jover Chew, who allegedly scammed consumers including tourists, and made a Vietnamese tourist beg for a refund.

    The Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) and the Singapore Tourism Board have authority under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act (CPFTA) to take up court orders against errant retailers to stop unfair business practices.

    However, owners of such businesses tend to close down and reopen under a different name before they can face any penalties. Members of Parliament yesterday asked for restrictions to be tightened and questioned whether existing laws had enough teeth.

    Mr Teo said the Government was moving to act against retailers who affect consumer confidence and dent Singapore's reputation: "The Government will review the legislation to strengthen the provisions, so that quicker action can be taken to deter unfair trading practices and prevent errant retailers from side-stepping restrictions under CPFTA by forming new companies."

    The laws are being reviewed and the Ministry of Trade and Industry is looking into the possibility of appointing an agency to investigate and enforce these changes, he added.

    Several MPs offered suggestions on how to step up efforts against dishonest shops.

    Non-Constituency MP Lina Chiam suggested that a blacklist of such retailers be put up at the airport and major commercial hubs to warn shoppers.

    However, Mr Teo felt that this might give visitors the wrong impression that many shops here are dishonest, when the vast majority of stores in Singapore are bona-fide operators. "It is more appropriate to tackle these issues at the local level," he said.

    Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Liang Eng Hwa suggested that enforcement officers visit shops under the guise of mystery shoppers to check on stores which had many complaints made against them, in order to gather evidence so that further action can be taken if necessary.

    Responding to the suggestions, Mr Teo said that it is important to first assess whether there is an element of criminality before escalating the matter to the police.

    Case president and MP for Mountbatten Lim Biow Chuan asked whether the police will investigate complaints against errant retailers in Sim Lim Square, and prosecute those who have cheated tourists and other consumers.

    Investigations into the recent Sim Lim Square cases are ongoing, replied S. Iswaran, Second Minister for Home Affairs and for Trade and Industry. The police can investigate only if a report or complaint suggests that a criminal offence had been committed.