By Lediati Tan and Han Su-Ying
THE Singapore Tourism Board (STB)'s six-year-old blacklist of dishonest retailers is available online - but it is blank.
This despite the growing number of complaints the STB and the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) receive every year.
Last year, STB got 244 complaints against electronics retailers in just two shopping centres, Lucky Plaza and Sim Lim Square, up from 238 in 2007.
That works out to an average of two complaints every three days. Yet there are no shops from either mall on the list.
Case received more than 20,000 complaints about various products and services in 2007 and last year.
In the first half of this year alone, 10,715 complaints were lodged with Case, including 275 related to electronics.
So why, despite the long list of errant retailers, is the blacklist blank?
The answer: Only retailers with three or more validated complaints against them within three months are put up on the list, which is updated quarterly.
After six months, if there is no new and validated complaint, they are automatically removed from the list.
There have been 17 retailers listed at various times but they have all been removed.
Ms Neeta Lachmandas, executive director of capability development at STB, explained: 'This period of three months balances the need for the STB to be pro-enterprise and highlight errant retailers to consumers.'
Why not make the blacklist permanent?
Ms Lachmandas said: 'Leaving the retailers' names permanently on the list is unfair to those who have, after this episode, committed to not engaging in unfair practices and would run counter to Singapore's pro-enterprise environment.'
The New Paper discovered the blank blacklist while investigating the claims of an Indonesian tourist who was asked to pay more than twice the agreed price for a handphone at a shop in Lucky Plaza (TNP, 7 Jul).
Consumers we spoke to questioned the rationale of having an empty blacklist.
Said polytechnic student Tan Shi Hao, 19: 'I'm surprised because there are always complaints about cheating from tourists and locals, and yet there are no companies listed?'
Added Ms Tang Li Cheng, 34, an operations executive: 'I think that with the criteria, it's hard to put retailers on the list.'
But retailers we spoke to were against having a more severe blacklist, fearing that the stigma may affect surrounding shops.
Electronics shop owner Danny Ramchandani, 28, said: 'Being blacklisted can be demoralising for the shop. Other shops in the same area will also suffer.
'With the area's reputation tarnished, customers will always have this mindset that 'you (the shop) are out to get me'.
'I'm quite happy with the current way they deal with things. The retailers are not completely written off, and it's good to give them a chance to rectify their mistakes and move on.'
Mr Seah Seng Choon, executive director of Case, feels that blacklisting errant retailers is only one side of the equation.
He said: 'Naming them is one way, but it is not going to solve the problem completely. STB has done so for quite a while, but errant retailers are still around.'
He raised the possibility that once a retailer is blacklisted, it may not bother any more and would continue in its errant ways.
'More importantly, STB or anyone else dealing with the issue should make sure retailers learn from this and understand that they cannot continue with this kind of practices,' he said.
'It is more critical to get them to change and put in place measures to encourage fair practice.'
Mr Seah added that it is better to manage the issue through various means rather than focus on blacklisting.
One positive way is to get retailers to be CaseTrust accredited.
Mr Robert Khoo, CEO of the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore (Natas), feels that the onus is on the customers to shop around and compare prices.
He said: 'How many tourists bother to check the directory and see what shops are blacklisted?'
This article was first published in The New Paper.