The ongoing saga surrounding "errant retailer" Mobile Air has raised several concerns about the state of law and order in Singapore.
Reports began to surface about dubious business practices at the Sim Lim Square store late last month. The incidents prompted a tremendous public outcry that has resulted in a police investigation, a proposal to give more "teeth" to consumer protection laws, a crackdown on other errant retailers and a dose of vigilante justice that ultimately forced Mobile Air to shut down.
The response from Singaporeans was swift. Gabriel Kang, the concerned citizen who turned to social media to rally help for tourist Pham Van Thoai, was able to raise over $15,000 from more than 1,600 donors in just over a day.
Blame fell quickly on the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case), a not-for-profit organisation that protects consumer interests by, among other things, promoting fair and ethical business practices.
The public was understandably disappointed. It's not as though the kind of errant behaviour exhibited by Mobile Air owner Jover Chew and his cohorts was something new, yet it seemed unable, or perhaps unwilling, to resolve the issue.
The truth is a little more complicated. Case, as a non-governmental organisation, has very few powers to compel rogue businesses to adopt ethical practices.
Though clearly unethical, the Mobile Air scam is not necessarily illegal, so the police also have few options to clamp down on such businesses until it is proven that individuals are guilty of a crime.
The Sim Lim Square management cannot evict tenants, or force individual landlords to blacklist unethical businesses.
And the landlords? What incentive do they have to be more stringent about whom they collect rent from?
It could be argued that of all the methods used to get Mobile Air to abandon its unfair practices - from the Voluntary Compliance Agreements to the injunctions, the notices of complaints and now the police investigation - the most effective resolution to the situation was provided by parody site SMRT Feedback Ltd.
It was a simple but brutal solution. In an interview with Yahoo, the people behind the website said: "…we provide a platform to publish publicly available information. What people do with the information is none of our concern."
With a little bit of research, and using the power of the social media, they put the power to become judge, jury and executioner in our hands. With that power, even the smallest and weakest of us could now bully the bully from the safety of anonymity. By their own admission, SMRT Feedback Ltd, in one of their posts, said that the law basically did nothing, and followed that up ominously with "we are the law".
We the people, we are the law.
To be honest, it felt like justice to me too. But is it really justice?