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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.

DARSHAN SINGH,
Manager, National
Consumer Complaints Centre,
Petaling Jaya.

 

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