Sim Lim Square scourge: Our consumer laws must have bite
I have never seen a group of people so happy to play the victims.
The management council of Sim Lim Square called a press conference yesterday to address the recent spotlight on rogue traders there, which they said has been bad for business.
It's a cry for help, they said. They are at their wits' end and only government intervention - by means of tighter legislation - can turn things around.
This is the second time they are seeking "help" - earlier this week, the management council sent a press release to newspapers beseeching the media to highlight their "plight".
The situation at Sim Lim Square is unique because the shops are owned by individuals, half of whom rent them out. The landlords would hardly be concerned whether their tenant is of ill-repute as long as they pay the rent on time.
For the honest retailers who have to put up with errant ones who give the place a bad name, it's like living in a condominium with an irritating neighbour you can't do anything about.
In a condo, the management council doesn't decide who lives in the units.
Yes, it can serve a warning to tenants who constantly have loud parties that annoy other residents, but they can't kick them out. Only the landlord can do that.
But if they are operating a brothel in the apartment, action can be taken because they are committing a crime.
For Sim Lim Square, it's a bit trickier.
What the rogue traders do runs afoul of the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act (CPFTA), and breaking any of its provisions is illegal, according to a lawyer.
However, it is not a criminal but a civil offence, which means it is up to the consumer to take up a civil suit against the errant shop owner.
But many of the victims are tourists who do not have the time to do this. And even locals would not find it feasible to spend thousands in legal fees to recoup their loss.
One consumer, a Chinese national studying here, went to the Small Claims Tribunal and managed to get back $1,010 of the $1,400 she was forced to pay for the in-house warranty for the iPhone 6 Plus she bought from Mobile Air, owned by Mr Jover Chew.
Out of spite, he refunded her the $1,010 in coins. And for every person who manages to get back some money, many more are left high and dry by retailers like Mr Chew.
It is precisely because these rogues know that they can get away with flagrant disrespect for fair practices that the CPFTA needs to be given bite.
Otherwise, they will continue to bring shame and disrepute to Singapore.
It is high time to get tough on shops that engage in unfair practices. Owners should be fined, or even jailed if they are recalcitrant.
It would send a clear signal to consumers at home and tourists from abroad that there will be no tolerance for retailers who resort to dirty tricks to make a sale, be it at Sim Lim Square, People's Park Complex or even Orchard Road.
There is already support from Member of Parliament Lim Biow Chuan, who is the president of the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case), for criminal prosecution of dishonest traders.
One hopes this will gain momentum to help push for the amendment of the CPFTA.
As for the Sim Lim Square management, instead of pleading helplessness, it can put pressure on the landlords to act against tenants who give the mall a bad name.
Case provides a monthly list of shops that consistently receive complaints.
The management said yesterday that these errant shops are generally the same handful of tenants.
In which case, why not draw up a blacklist of these recalcitrant tenants and circulate it to their landlords to act?
Instead of buyer beware, it's now renter beware.
Otherwise, when shoppers stop going to Sim Lim Square, the landlord must be prepared to deal with lower property values and rentals.
It shouldn't have to come to that, because we are told 98 per cent of retailers in Sim Lim Square are honest, including the 13 on the management council.
So please, management of Sim Lim Square, stop acting the victims - you're better than that.
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"It is high time to get tough on shops that engage in unfair practices. Owners should be fined, or even jailed if they are recalcitrant."