Singapore

THE government is reviewing Singapore's consumer protection laws so that faster and more effective action can be taken against unfair trading practices and errant retailers.

Under consideration is whether an agency - either an existing one or one set up afresh - is needed to carry out investigations and enforce the rules, Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck told Parliament on Monday.

Parties undertaking the review will also look at how to prevent errant shopowners from side-stepping restrictions under the current laws by forming new companies.

They will also study the best practices and experiences of other countries and conduct further consultations with relevant stakeholders.

Mr Teo was responding to nine MPs, each of whom wanted to know more about the government's plans to beef up consumer-protection measures following a slew of complaints against dishonest retailers in Sim Lim Square last year.

The most prominent case was that involving Jover Chew, the owner of Mobile Air, who was alleged to have tried to refund a customer S$1,010 in coins and to have made a tourist beg for a refund.

Mr Teo told the House that a review of the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act (CPFTA) was already underway and likely to be completed by the middle of this year.

The stakeholders in the review include the home affairs and law ministries, the Attorney-General's Chambers, mall operators and the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case).

Mr Teo said that in the review, the Ministry of Trade and Industry would try to balance the interests of consumers and those of businesses and also enhance market competitiveness.

The majority of consumer complaints here are handled by Case, and these are resolved either through discussion or mediation, or by consumers going to the Small Claims Tribunal for financial compensation. In the last three years, Case has received about 2,000 complaints against retailers in Sim Lim Square, Lucky Plaza and People's Park Complex, and mediated in 1,400 of them so far.

Mr Teo said: "The government's approach to consumer protection is based on promoting fair trading among retailers, and helping consumers make informed purchasing decisions."

He added that it was important to take action against errant businesses that dealt a blow to consumer confidence and dented Singapore's reputation.