20140202 The case against CASE as Singapore’s consumer watchdog

I refer to Yahoo article “CASE complaints hit all time high in 2013” link and CNA muted article “Consumer complaints on the rise in S’pore, says CASE”. link
Both articles do not offer an in depth analysis of what has been ailing CASE.

Seah Chiang Nee, Foreign Editor at the Straits Times many moons ago, once commented on the job of a reporter: “They made journalism an easy task. Many ended up writing up the government’s prepared texts, which would form the next day’s headlines”. It appears Seah Chiang Nee’s “pennies from heaven” are still falling in 2014. link

Both articles have allowed CASE, helmed by 2 PAP MPs, to justify its incompetence. (we have heard of VPs in a company but Yeo is now an IPP after ‘stepping down’ as President. link

From 2011 to 2013, the number of complaints increased by 7,014. However, the amount recovered decreased by about $1,200,000. The number of filed cases actually dropped by 265 from 2012 and increase by a mere 104 from 2011. Although the resolution rate was higher in 2013, it referred only to the filed cases. What happened to all the other complaints?

The reason given by the executive director of CASE, Seah Seng Choon, was “the big ticket items, like timeshare and renovation contractors, have reduced”.

2011 2012 2013
No. of complaints 22,240 25,733 29,254
Filed cases 1,396 1,765 1,500
Resolution rate (filed cases) 70.5% 75.5% 77.5%
Amount recovered $3,585,299.81 $3,378,675.38 $2,356,072.70

If you look at the table below from CASE’s website, link Seah appears to have a problem with numbers – complaints against contractors was 1,532 in 2012 and increased by 16.1 percent to 1,779 in 2013. Like CNA, Yahoo seems to have become another government stenographer and did not bother to verify facts on CASE’s website. One should not forget Yaacob Ibrahim’s desire for Singaporeans to read the “right things”.

No. 2012 Total 2013 Total % +/-
1 Motorcars 2,255 Motorcars 3,302 + 46.4%
2 Beauty 1,984 Electrical & Electronics 2,314 + 23.5%
3 Electrical & Electronics 1,874 Beauty 1,937 – 2.4%
4 Timeshare 1,870 Handphones 1,909 + 52.2%
5 Contractors 1,532 Furniture 1,785 + 36.7%
6 Travel 1,436 Contractors 1,779 + 16.1%
7 Telecommunications 1,435 Timeshare 1,512 – 19.1%
8 Maid Agencies 1,351 Telecommunications 1,511 + 5.3%
9 Furniture 1,306 Travel 1,378 – 4.0%
10 Handphones 1,254 Maid Agencies 1,250 – 7.5%

Source: http://www.case.org.sg/news.html

So why did Seah claim the figure for “…renovation contractors, have reduced”? (The number of complaints against contractors was even lower at 1,313 in 2010. link)

Complaints against renovation contractors usually amount to thousands of dollars with some exceeding $10,000. Assuming a conservative figure of, say, $5,000 per complaint, 1,779 cases would have amounted to almost $9 million. Cases highlighted to CASE are probably just the tip of the iceberg.

Most contractors are now called interior designers (ID) because they provide outsourced designs to home owners. Home owners continue to be at the receiving end of their shoddy workmanship because of the time constraint which makes it impossible to change the contractor once work has started. Installment payment plans also work against consumers. In short, contractors’ are able to maximise profits at the expense of consumers who have minimal protection.

Did CASE assist all complainants or simply direct them to the Small Claims Tribunal, as was my experience four years ago?

In 2010, I signed a contract with an ID for about $50,000. There was almost no checks on its sub contractors despite my frequent complaints and the renovation was also delayed. The ID was not even present on the handover day!

House warming gifts from my ID? Latest design? – paint on laminate flooring.

Mine was a straightforward case but I was referred to the Small Claims Tribunal (SCT). All the instances of shoddy workmanship was mediated at the SCT with the ID agreeing to a settlement amount of $3,500. As far as I was concerned, my rights as a consumer were not protected by CASE. There are of course worse cases of contractors from hell – fly-by-night contractors closing shop after collecting client deposits. link

Another big ticket item – motorcar complaints which also rose by 1,047 (3303 – 2255) in one year. Seah admitted this figure was “astounding” but then blamed “the spike to the continuous rise of COE prices for new cars, driving the sales of second-hand cars instead”. So does Seah think that consumers are at it again, complaining for fun?

From the above table, readers can decide for themselves if CASE has been protecting consumer rights.

The following statement by CASE reflect its pro business bias:
1 The “rise in complaints does not necessarily mean that business standards have fallen. (Does it then mean business standards have risen and more consumers are complaining to pass time?)
2 The “lower tolerance for poor business practices could have contributed to the (increased) figures”. (Fact is consumers have been forced to tolerate poor business practices for too long because the consumer watchdog doesn’t have teeth)

CASE says it is a non-governmental organisation. CASE website On its website, it stated executive rector Seah Seng Choon as the “Key Person”. link Seah has been with CASE for 12 years with complaints and silly excuses surging and was employed by government linked NTUC. link

Past president and PAP MP Yeo Guat Kwang, is an indispensable man in Singapore wearing 64 hats as a director, member, chairman, advisor, etc of different organisations and GPCs. link
(The Parliament of Singapore website should take note that Yeo’s present occupation is not CASE President since 2002 as he had already stepped down in 2012. Your last review 27 January 2014 has overlooked this fact. Parliament website)

Yeo Guat Kwang: “”Someone asked me, how can we have traffic rules without (the) traffic police? How can we have a law that would not penalise the black sheep? They wanted a criminal law.” link Yeo clearly does not believe in enforcement and punitive measures. Yeo’s approach has emboldened businesses in the different industries to continue fleecing consumers knowing they will only receive a slap on the wrist.

The present CASE president is PAP MP Lim Biow Chuan, a law firm partner, member/chairman of Select Committees and GPCs.

With PAP MPs helming CASE, who is CASE kidding when it says it is a “non-governmental organsiation”?

And with such a ‘busy’ leadership fighting for consumers’ rights only on a part-time basis, is it logical to expect less complaints in future?

The PAP government is also involved in almost cradle-to-grave businesses. There is clearly a conflict of interests in appointing a PAP guy to protect consumers against unfair business practices.

Conclusion

CASE should be headed by a non-politically affiliated president on a full time basis. Under the current CASE set up, consumer complaints are bound to continue increasing. CASE’s continued educational approach has led frustrated consumers to perceive the organisation as one which is toothless. transitioning.org Consumers would be more than happy to provide a set of dentures for CASE to remind unscrupulous businesses that business as usual must go.

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