Consumer Protection Act cannot cover everything

The Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act (CPFTA) cannot be a "one-leg kick" that encompasses everything because it would be too messy, said Mr Teo Ser Luck, the Minister of State for Trade and Industry (MTI).

He was addressing Mountbatten MP Lim Biow Chuan's concerns about dishonest traders at Sim Lim Square during the MTI Committee of Supply debate.

Last year, the CPFTA drew criticism for lacking bite after Sim Lim Square made the news for its errant retailers.

Mr Lim, who is also the president of the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case), urged MTI to introduce criminal sanctions to the CPFTA against dishonest traders or contractors when the evidence is clear.

He also pointed out limitations with the Act, saying: "Sometimes, civil action against such dishonest traders are of limited use because consumers find it costly to take legal action if their claims exceed the Small Claims Tribunal jurisdiction."

He added that the consequences of an injunction can be easily circumvented by a trader who has been sued.

If an injunction taken against a company is granted, the company will be restricted from engaging in unfair practices as stated in the CPFTA.

"He simply shuts down his old business and sets up another business in his spouse's or other family member's name," Mr Lim said.

In response, Mr Teo gave an update of what has been done since the Sim Lim Square saga.

The mall's management council, together with Case and Singapore Tourism Board (STB), produced consumer alerts and advisory posters in English and Chinese, and placed them at the mall's entrances, lift lobbies and lifts.

STB is also working with the management council to prepare public announcements on consumer advice in the four major languages.

"MTI will be working closely with Case to step up broader consumer education efforts," Mr Teo said.

But he reminded the House that the CPFTA cannot be an omnibus legislation that deals with everything,

"We don't want to discourage retailers - especially the good ones - from doing their business," he said.

"We know that errant retailers are in the minority. We just need to catch them."

He added that the CPFTA is under review and recommendations will be made by mid-June.