The Singapore Government is often said to be pragmatic in the extreme, perhaps even to a fault, and not in the least bit dogmatic or ideological. But I've always believed that when it comes to matters of consumer protection, it hews to an ideological adherence to corporatist free market ideals, preferring to leave things to the market instead of regulating to protect Singaporeans.
Two recent incidents bring this into sharp focus. Firstly, the slap-on-the-wrist by the MAS on financial institutions over the misselling of structured deposits, which I've posted about. Secondly, the Brookes Business School incident, where it now turns out that RMIT had complained to MOE as early as 2007.
The Brookes incident, and indeed all previous fraud cases involving private schools, fundamentally stem from MOE's previous reluctance to regulate the private education sector. Just like how MAS did not, and continues to decline to, closely regulate the sale of high-risk investment productsm, setting the stage for Singapore consumers to lose up to half a billion dollars. Just like how MND steadfastly refused to regulate property agents, until the sheer chutzpah of some ERA agents was exposed in court, and only then did the Ministry start talking about regulating the industry.
These instances demonstrate that when it comes to consumer matters, the Government would very much prefer to leave things to the free market, which is as good as saying that the Government would prefer not to regulate to protect consumers, presumably in the name of avoiding imposing additional compliance costs on businesses.
I've always wondered about that -- if they are not supposed to engage in prohibited conduct in the first place, then how much incremental costs would they incur, and should they not be incurring those compliance costs in the first place? The reasoning is just too unconvincing. It is nothing short of an abdication of a government's responsibility to protect consumers.
If one firmly and sincerely believes in protecting consumers, then one would surely adopt a proactive stance in doing the right thing, and not wait for multiple cases to occur before taking action. As mrbrown tweeted so succinctly, "Must more people kena then act ah?"