Errant retailers to be blocked from starting new companies

Errant retailers to be blocked from starting new companies

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

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

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

But such retailers tend to close down their businesses and reopen under a different name before they face any penalties.

MPs yesterday asked for tighter restrictions 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 sidestepping 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 cases and enforce these changes, said Mr Teo.

Several of the nine MPs who spoke on the issue also had 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.

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

Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland- Bukit Timah GRC) suggested that enforcement officers act as shoppers to check on shops that have many complaints made against them. This is so they can gather evidence for further action to be taken if necessary.

Ms Denise Phua (Moulmein-Kallang GRC) said that, as an interim measure before changes to the laws are made, there should be police officers in civilian attire at malls such as Sim Lim Square and Lucky Plaza so that shoppers can make reports more easily.

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

Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten), president of Case, also asked whether the police will investigate complaints against errant retailers in Sim Lim Square and prosecute those who have cheated tourists and consumers.

Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade and Industry S. Iswaran said investigations into the Sim Lim Square cases are ongoing, adding that the police can investigate only if a report or complaint suggests that a criminal offence has been committed.

This article was first published on January 20, 2015.
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