A dedicated battler for consumer's rights
No refund, no replacement, no exchange. That was the policy of practically every shop and chain store once a customer walked out of the premises with their goods in Hong Kong circa 1985. If you bought a leaky water heater, a malfunctioning TV set, or a gold chain you suspected might not contain the amount of precious metal claimed by the jeweller, you blamed it on providence or your own carelessness for not having checked properly. Or, if you were brave and persistent, you steadied yourself for a fight with the shopkeeper, often literally.
What a sea change we have had when it comes to consumer rights over the past 22 years. During this time, Pamela Chan Wong Shui, who left her office for the last time yesterday, served as head of the Consumer Council for more than two decades - only its second chief executive since the watchdog was set up in 1974.
It is hard to say how much the transformation was due to the efforts of the council under Mrs Chan's stewardship, or simply part of an evolving service-based economy in which companies needed to offer better services to keep up with ever demanding customers. In some areas, the council can legitimately claim credit. After years of lobbying and policy study, it finally pushed through a series of safety laws in the 1990s to regulate toys, consumer goods and electronics.
The government's promise of drafting a competition law this year after dragging its feet for so long is partly the result of persistent efforts of the council. In 1985, if you wanted to buy a flat, various government departments, an independent surveyor and the developer would all give you different measurements. Mrs Chan was instrumental in getting them to agree on the definitions of saleable floor areas. However, she has cautioned that construction floor areas still need a better, legally viable definition.
During her tenure, the council's monthly Choice magazine, which features testing on all kinds of products and services, has also built up a respectable circulation of 30,000 copies. Its credibility and fairness help promote products with high ratings, and penalise those rated as substandard. Under Mrs Chan's leadership, the council, in some ways, has been ahead of its time; in others it has kept up with it. Let's hope that her successor, Connie Lau Ying-hing, will do as well.