New laws need public input, government told

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 May, 2011, 12:00am


The city's consumer watchdog yesterday urged the government to come out of its bureaucratic shell and talk to people on the street when making important laws.

The authorities have submitted two legislative proposals to lawmakers for consideration - one is an amendment on the Trade Descriptions Ordinance aimed at eradicating bad sales practices, and the other is a new competition law that prohibits back-door price fixing.

Chairman of the Consumer Council, Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, said few legislators were familiar with these issues. He said the government should also talk to industrial insiders and the public when making these legislative proposals.

'Over the past few months, the government just focused on [talking to] the bills committee [in the Legislative Council]. The public has not been briefed adequately,' he said.

Cheung said it was a systematic problem as the government seldom came out of its shell to engage the public when making important laws, causing unnecessary suspicion and worries from the affected parties.

He cited the example of the minimum wage law, which came into effect on Sunday. Cheung said most small and medium-sized businesses only heard the argument put forward by trade chambers or commentators and seldom directly from the government. As a result, many became worried about the new law.

'It is the government's responsibility to explain its proposals and talk to small businesses directly ... you shouldn't expect a cha chaan teng [local caf?] boss to look into the proposed laws himself,' he said.

Cheung feared the amendment of the Trade Descriptions Ordinance, which will extend coverage from goods to services, will run into the same problem.

The proposed amendment will give consumers better protection but is not comprehensive. The property sector, for instance, is left out because sales of first-hand flats will be regulated by a separate law. But there is no law covering second-hand flat sales.

Cheung said ultimately the government should come up with a 'tidy and neat' consumer protection law that covered every sector.

When the Consumer Council was founded 37 years ago, comparing prices and issuing warnings against unsafe goods were its major roles. Now the watchdog spends more time and energy on studying trade practices, sustainable consumption and regulation of financial products.

The notion of consumption was transforming, Cheung said. After the Lehman Brothers collapse, consumer protection authorities worldwide have revised their regulatory body to include financial products - previously deemed as investments but now recognised as another form of consumption.

This issue will be discussed today by consumer bodies from more than 100 countries at the Consumers International World Congress at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai.