Sim Lim Square mobile phone shop Mobile Air was served with a letter by the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) on Tuesday (Nov 4), which invited the store to sign a Voluntary Compliance Agreement (VCA).

Mobile Air has been in the news for trying to force a Vietnamese tourist who bought an iPhone 6 to fork out an additional sum for a warranty package. The store had also been ordered by the Small Claims Tribunal to refund S$1,010 to a customer, which it then tried to do by giving her 18kg worth of coins. 

CASE Executive Director Seah Seng Choon, told Channel NewsAsia about the latest action taken against the store during an interview on Singapore Tonight. He revealed that CASE had received 18 complaints about Mobile Air from Jan to Oct this year, although the store had attracted no complaints in 2012, and only two complaints last year. “If they sign the VCA, they have to stop the unfair practices,” said Mr Seah. “Otherwise we can proceed with an injunction.”

If retailers continue with unfair practices after an injunction is granted against them, they can be charged with contempt of court, and be jailed or fined. On Monday, the High Court granted a permanent injunction against Cyber Maestro, also a Sim Lim Square retailer, after numerous complaints were filed regarding issues like misleading consumers about prices.

Shopkeepers at Sim Lim Square say little can be done about the unethical business practices of a small number of retailers at the mall, and are concerned that they might suffer retribution from the errant retailers if they voice their concerns publicly.

One tenant, who declined to be named, said: "On Levels One to Three, all those dealing with mobiles phones and cameras, they have very bad reputations. Every now and then you can see police cars coming every week, visiting the shop because most of the time it's the shopkeepers having conflicts with the customers.”

But he said he was resigned to the situation. “Even if I were to say something, I would not know what is the response I am going to get, whether the black sheep will take revenge on me. There is nothing much I can do. At the end of the day, the landlord will just say: 'Who's going to pay my rent? Are you going to rent my shop?’”

Lawyer Steven Lam agreed that the management has little power to take the problem retailers to task. "To change the by-laws of the Management Corporation Strata Title, you need the owners to agree. That is a big issue, because if I am a landlord and I am getting a good rental return on my unit, I really will not care what my tenant is doing provided they are not breaching the terms of the tenancy agreement or breaking any law. The interests of the customers may be of no relevance to that."

The shopowners of Sim Lim Square have collaborated with CASE to put out an alert list on errant retailers, said Mr Seah. “There were over 100 cases some years back, this has been reduced to about 80 this year up to Oct. The number has gone down, but obviously it is not sufficient and we need to look at other measures.”

Still, he believes the current regulations – namely the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act, and how consumers can seek redress at the Small Claims Tribunal – are sufficient. Consumers also need to play their part, and do their due diligence,” he said.  

The Singapore Tourism Board on Tuesday said it takes a serious view of retailers who besmirch the name of Singapore as a premier tourist destination.  It said it was "aware of the situation at Sim Lim Square", and said it will take appropriate actions if there is evidence of unfair practices.

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