Consumer tribunal must throw book at unethical businesses

The Tribunal for Consumer Claims (TTPM) should not allow any business, small or big, to make a mockery of the existing system.

When businesses, which have the advantage of having in-house lawyers or other professionals and experts, take advantage of TTPM’s simple procedures to knock out ordinary consumers who have filed claims against them, it should throw the book at them.

Instead, TTPM at present gives them face by entertaining their unethical and deceitful representations to support their acts and omissions.

This is a very sad state of affairs as it only encourages further erosion of business ethics.

In a recent case in Penang, the defendant (a big car dealer) did not file Borang 2 (as defence).

The tribunal gave judgment in default, but did so in Borang 8 (award for a claimant where the respondent is absent), when in fact it should have been in Borang 5 (award for a claimant where the respondent did not file a statement of defence). Why did it not do so?

A few days after the Borang 8 award was made, the respondent quickly filed Borang 12 (application for setting aside award) and together with it, filed Borang 2 (statement of defence and counterclaim).

The excuse for being absent at the hearing was:
Did not receive notice of hearing (Borang 4).

The reason for not filing statement of defence (Borang 2) was: Refer attachment, i.e. Pos Laju tracking, which indicated that the notice was sent to the wrong address.

The attachment was a printout of the tracking which did not show the address to which the letter was sent. It showed the movement of registered letter No. RD187211391 from the post office of posting to the delivery office “Mutiara” and confirmation of delivery.

The alert consumer felt something was fishy. If the registered letter from TTPM was delivered to the wrong address, how did the car company know its tracking number?

So, he did a search at “Mutiara”, which is the name given to the Pos Laju delivery centre in Penang.

It showed the letter was received by a person named “Z…” together with her MyKad number. He then called the company to enquire about “Z…” and found she was an employee of the car company.

He then prepared a simple affidavit stating that the excuse given by the car company in Borang 12 was not true, supported by the search result. On the hearing date, this was given to the tribunal president who questioned the car company representative.

Caught with his pants down, the company representative admitted the statement in Borang 12 was not true and tried to wriggle his way out by saying all four of the officers were absent as they were at another place. The president rightly told them that anyone else from the company could have come to the tribunal hearing.

What’s most regretful is that the president still accepted the Borang 12 (with the lies in it) and set aside the award.

To give face to the car company that had lied to the tribunal is open encouragement to them to repeat this “strategy” in future cases. A bad precedent had been set through this case.

The tribunal is part of an enforcement mechanism and is there to raise ethical standards in business which, according to the domestic trade and consumer affairs ministry, is very low.

A study in 2014 showed that good business ethics was just 5%. In other words, 95% of businesses in Malaysia is not done ethically.

This is despite the ministry having published a “Code of Business Ethics — Malaysia” in 2007.

There is a moral duty on the tribunal to help create an ethical business community.

But, regretfully, the tribunal is unwittingly, as in the case above, helping to lower business ethics as it has no heart to be firm with business people who appear before it with dirty hands.

The tribunal, having discovered that Borang 12 contained lies, should have rejected it outright as the car company had come before it with dirty hands and forfeited any right it had to apply to set aside the award.

This speaks of the integrity and standards of the tribunal.

Such bending backwards by the tribunal, even issuing the award in Borang 8 instead of Borang 5 in the first instance, to accommodate the whims of unethical businesses, is most regrettable and suggests a bias towards businesses.

It is time the tribunal got firm with recalcitrant businesses and threw the book at them to raise the standard of business ethics to earn the respect of consumers.

Ravinder Singh is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.