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Will CASE walk away after securing just 68 refunds from over 2,000 Sky Lantern Festival attendees?

Is the Consumers Association of Singapore done with its job after getting 68 refunds for the Sky Lantern Festival fiasco, leaving 2,000+ attendees in the dark?



In the wake of the Singapore Sky Lantern Festival fiasco, where hopes floated high but lanterns didn’t, the role of the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) has once again come under the microscope.

On 27 March, CASE President Melvin Yong released a statement. He assured attendees that the association had secured a commitment from Asian Couture and Boutique to reimburse all consumers who filed complaints with CASE by 11:59 pm on 31 March.

Initially, the event’s organizers resisted offering refunds, advising ticket holders to resell their passes for a rescheduled event instead. However, following mounting public pressure and a police investigation, a refund agreement was reached with the facilitation of CASE.

Yong, who is also a Member of Parliament from the People’s Action Party, said, “I am delighted that CASE and Asian Couture and Boutique have reached an agreement to provide full refunds to affected consumers” and that CASE will continue to protect consumers’ interests and work closely with businesses to achieve the best possible outcome.

While it has been reported that all 68 attendees of the Singapore Sky Lantern Festival who filed a report with the consumer watchdog will receive a full refund, questions remain. What about the other attendees among the 2,500 who have also been affected by the broken or undelivered promises of the organizer?

Attendees, who paid S$50 each for a night of enchantment, were left in the dark, both literally and metaphorically.

This situation raises a critical question: Why must consumers be members to receive full support?

Moreover, is CASE implying that its responsibility as a consumer watchdog is fully met as long as it secures refunds for those who filed complaints, ignoring the broader affected consumer base?

CASE describes itself as a non-profit, non-governmental organisation dedicated to protecting consumer interests through information, education, and the promotion of fair trade practices.

According to its annual report, CASE received 15,144 complaints in 2022, mediated 137 cases, and achieved a settlement rate of 77.3%, recovering more than S$412,000 for consumers.

CASE typically only mediates for members who formally complained through its channel, who pay an annual membership fee of S$27.25 from those seeking its intervention—a fee waived for the aggrieved festival-goers in this instance.

Despite having over 130k members (not including NTUC’s million over members), CASE collected only S$1.15 million in fees. This indicates that, while a membership fee exists as a formal requirement, CASE appears to regularly offer waivers, undermining the notion of an exclusionary barrier.

However, this practice of selective fee waivers raises questions about the organization’s approach to inclusivity and the true accessibility of its services for all consumers it aims to protect.

Past notable instances have demonstrated the consumer watchdog’s powerlessness or lack of proactiveness.

A viral video showing how a Vietnamese tourist was scammed and bullied at a mobile shop in Sim Lim Square brought the unethical practices in Singapore to the international spotlight.

In fact, the problem was so pervasive that, over a three-year period between 2012 and 2014, there were over 2,000 complaints against retailers in Sim Lim Square, Lucky Plaza, and People’s Park Centre.

Before this incident, CASE had received over 20 complaints against the shop but had taken little to no action.

It was only after the public outcry that CASE publicly voiced its concerns and took action to file for an injunction against the company. It later took the Commercial Affairs Department to intervene, bringing the operator and its staff to justice.

Another case where CASE’s limited power against non-compliant businesses is highlighted is the case of a beauty salon located in Parklane Shopping Mall. Over two consecutive years, it attracted significant criticism for its subpar service and the difficulties many faced when trying to book appointments.

From 2022 to 2023, the salon was the subject of 89 complaints, mainly from individuals who had invested in nail or eyelash service packages, with costs ranging from S$120 to S$1,200. Customers reported not only an unresponsive booking system and excessive wait times but also poor service quality, including lash extensions that caused discomfort or fell off prematurely.

In attempts to address the issue, CASE encouraged the salon to adopt fair practices by proposing a Voluntary Compliance Agreement, aimed at stopping the unfair practices and offering compensation to aggrieved customers.

However, the salon’s refusal to cooperate showcased CASE’s struggle to enforce accountability. As a result, CASE has been compelled to seek assistance from the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore as it continues to operate with impunity, hoping for a more decisive intervention.

The reliance on public outcry as a catalyst for action is a temporary fix, not a long-term strategy.

The effectiveness of CASE should not depend on media attention or the volume of complaints filed. Consumer protection ought to be omnipresent, not an intermittent spotlight activated by growing public attention.

As a non-profit, non-governmental organization, often led by a current or former Member of Parliament from the People’s Action Party, CASE walks a fine line in advocating for consumer rights while staying in the good graces of influential powers. This delicate balance risks compromising the assertiveness needed to confront businesses, especially those with government ties.

Reflecting on a case from years ago, where I assisted a family in navigating aggressive sales tactics employed by a beauty company, I was struck by the cultural contrasts in consumer advocacy.

The mother, a foreigner, was accustomed to confronting errant merchants directly—a proactive approach she had learned in her own country. She wanted to picket outside the shop to express her unhappiness and pressure the shop into issuing a refund. Although she was dissuaded from doing so by her Singaporean husband, they ultimately received their refund through a strongly worded complaint letter, which I had the opportunity to help draft.

The mother’s intended approach starkly contrasted with the more passive, report-reliant methods typical in Singapore. Referring back to the Sim Lim case, many actions by members of the public against the perceived unfairness and unethical practices of the shop were deemed illegal.

The situation underscored the limited avenues available to Singaporean consumers: facing the high costs of legal action, the unpredictability of police involvement, and the oft-debated effectiveness of CASE, as highlighted in numerous online comments.

This experience illuminated not just the procedural differences in handling consumer grievances but also how cultural expectations can shape one’s approach to seeking justice and why the Singapore government makes CASE operate in the way it does today.

The Singapore Sky Lantern Festival debacle should serve as a wake-up call, signalling the need for a reevaluation of consumer advocacy practices in Singapore. It’s about more than just refunds; it’s about fundamentally rethinking the approach to consumer protection.

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Watch Pig again

Case is afraid of companies own by empires. They cannot fight any cases for you. And will join them to ask you to sign a non-disclosure agreement. That what happen to the Yunnan package accompanied by OCBC bank bullying. No??? I did not sign the agreement and lost my money so that I can speak up …. Horrible biz owners.

This is an example of “business friendly”

Why complain?
The country has NO consumer protection so why blame CASE for such issue.
Even CASE did not do anything for anyone, it is expected.
Parallel car importers have taken millions from customers and run away.
NO police case.
In the end, no case!!😆😆😆🤣🤣🤣

CASE itself is a scam. With business people having a stake in the entity. It is neither a Government agency or a consumers’ rights creation. In Singapore, laws are in place to make it difficult to register a society in the interest of the consumer. CASE was created only with political connections. Lawyers should avail themselves to such cases of consumer cheating by offering group representation. But they dont, because the returns are much too small. And businesses know that individuals are not likely to pursue, and if they do, just make it too legalistic and the individual will back… Read more »