SPEECH BY ER DR LEE BEE WAH, MP FOR NEE SOON GRC, AT THE SECOND READING OF THE CONSUMER PROTECTION (FAIR TRADING) AMENDMENT BILL IN PARLIAMENT ON 13 SEP 2016
1. Singapore retail and services sector is one of the contributors to our economy. We are one of the world’s top destinations for luxury retailers and attracted luxury and business fashion brands worldwide. Retail sales (seasonally adjusted) rose by 1.4% in May 2016 over the previous month. Sales of food and beverage services (seasonally adjusted) increased 0.9% in May 2016 over the previous month. So, our retail and F&B industry is a thriving and important component in our economy. It is also noteworthy that many tourists also come to Singapore to enjoy shopping besides visiting the various tourist attractions. So, our retail industry is very much inherent in the Singapore brand. We need not only to give good service but also be honest and above board in our dealings with customers, be they local or foreign.
2. Last year, we saw how the years of hard work put in by everyone in the retail industry and the Singapore Tourism Board was thrown to the dumps thanks to the reckless, irresponsible and condemnable action of an errant retail and his staff at Sim Lim Square. We gained notoriety overnight. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs even put up a notice on its website warning Chinese citizens to be careful or even avoid going to Sim Lim Square following a series of fraudulent and unethical sales tactics by a few miscreants that caught the headlines in the world press. As a consequence, the mall also suffered from the negative publicity. Our country’s reputation too suffered. I applaud the government’s effort for taking this matter seriously and giving SPRING more teeth to protect the consumers.
3. While the new initiatives are commendable I think it may have left a gap in that there are companies, especially those in the gym, spa and beauty care sector which is in the practice of selling packages to the public. They seek advanced payments and lure, or sometimes coerce, customers to sign up for six months or even 12 month packages. Just recently we saw California Fitness went into liquidation. Many consumers would be hard put to recover their money. We’re looking at a franchise that has been in operation for about a decade, was supposedly an established industry player. Customers took them in good faith in buying prepaid packages. Only to find themselves locked out without prior warning. Surely the management knew they were going belly up and yet they didn’t stop the sales staff from recruiting. This is a practice we must stop. This is doing something to defraud the consumers. There is a CaseTrust for Spa, Beauty and Wellness industry. Should all fitness gyms, beauty salons and wellness spas be required to come under CaseTrust, if they are selling prepaid services?
4. Prior to this year, it seems CASE has received a number of complaints against California Fitness. Surely this should have served as a red flag. But unfortunately nothing was raised publicly. Additionally, I hope SPRING would pay more attention to companies that have had complaints lodged against them and depending on the severity of the situation, possibly suspend them from selling prepaid services, or put out a warning sign to the public. It’s like the Stock Exchange does to flag out listed companies which are showing a sudden run-up in prices, or put companies on the restricted trading list.
5. Allow me to summarise the above two points in Chinese. 零售和服务业是我国经济的两大栋梁，我们从森林广场的事件中看到，一个无良商家就足以破坏新加坡的名誉，所以我绝对支持立法让标新局有权力调查和惩罚无良商家。
我想强调许多消费者有怨言的一种服务，那就是预先付费的配套。例如健身房California Fitness 最近倒闭，倒闭之前还卖了不少配套，简直是在欺骗消费者。我想请政府考虑，规定有售卖预付配套的健身房、美容院、spa等等，都必须有消费者协会的CaseTrust认证。如果有很多消费者投诉他们，标新局可以采取防范措施，暂时禁止他们售卖预付配套。
6. Ultimately, prevention is better than cure and I hope that in cases of poor business practices, the problems can be nipped at the buds before a large number of people are implicated. In the case of Sim Lim Square, the mall’s management subsequently did a good job working closely with authorities to weed out the other errant retailers. It would be good if SPRING could keep in close touch with various retail watchdogs and organisations to identify problematic retail practices in advance.
7. Next while I note that we are giving more bite to look into cases to protect consumers, I hope the Minister can clarify why the investigation may be carried out by an auxiliary police officer, appointed under the Police Force Act, instead of the regular Police. I don’t know if this will help to expedite investigations. I don’t know if these officers have been involved in investigation work previously and have sufficient experience to do the task. On the flip side, if SPRING has its own investigation officers, would they be given sufficient training and the confidence to engage the culprits as some of these errant retailers can be gangsters. Otherwise, they may end up like some LTA officers who got into scuffles and tiffs when trying to carry out their duties.
Thank you, Madam.