Tribunalís role in jeopardy
The Star 13/1/2006
ONE good thing that has happened to Malaysian consumers since 1999 is the
enactment of the Consumer Protection Act 1999.
This Act has brought about the existence of the Consumer Claims Tribunal.
Consumers now have access to a cheap and speedy avenue to seek redress.
Before 1999, consumers would have to go through lengthy judicial litigation
over small consumer matters but now, they would be able to solve their
problem against businesses within 60 days of filing of a claim, which would
only cost them RM5.
If previously consumers would refrain from taking small claims to civil
courts, they would now be able to freely do so. There should be no reason
for consumers to keep silent if they are being short-changed by businesses
as the tribunal can hear claims for up to RM25,000.
Though the tribunal plays an important role in helping consumers, its
effectiveness has always been questioned.
This is due to the shocking revelation by the media that there were 954
cases of non-compliance recorded between 2001 and Dec 31 last year.
What is the use of passing an award if it is not complied with? The Consumer
Protection Act 1999 has clothed the enforcement division with strong
enforcement powers to enforce these awards but how many of the errant
traders have been booked?
Also, till today, we have not seen or heard of any company being taken to
court and charged with failure to comply.
Apart from these shortcomings, the tribunal decisions are so inconsistent
that consumers are sometimes left puzzled.
Each tribunal president interprets the facts to his own understanding, which
results in identical cases being judged differently.
The tribunal presidents are required to provide written grounds of decisions
but most of them do not. It is important to provide written judgments as the
tribunal award is final and it can only be challenged via judicial review in
the High Court. If serious attention is not given to the tribunal, it will
soon lose its credibility.
Consumer Complaints Centre,