The government should get behind the proposed consumer complaint arbitration body
Setting up a separate body would save consumers time and money and would resolve disputes in a way fair to all parties
If the consumer was king, there would not be so many disputes involving questionable sales tactics or substandard products or services in the city. Nor would there be a need for the Consumer Council. With some 27,000 complaints lodged to the watchdog a year, the importance of an effective and credible mechanism to settle consumer disputes cannot be overstated.
That said, there is a limit as to how much the council can handle. Despite its much-commended service over the past decades, about a quarter of the complaints still get nowhere every year. So when the watchdog has formally called for the establishment of an arbitration body to help settle disputes, it should be taken seriously.
That one in four cases remains unresolved is not surprising. Unless the disputes involve huge sums or criminal allegations, few consumers will go through the hassle of taking the complaint to court. The proposed Consumer Dispute Resolution Centre is therefore worth considering in that not only does it save customers from going through lengthy and costly court proceedings, it also enables claims involving less amounts of money to be brought forward. This will also free up valuable court resources for other cases.
Resistance from industry is to be expected. But it appears to stem from a lack of awareness or misconception. For instance, a trade leader reportedly questioned why public funds should be used to finance a mechanism which he thinks is inherently biased towards consumers. The same could be asked about the Consumer Council, which received more than HK$98 million in subvention from the government last year. But like the council, the proposed arbitration centre has its worth in that it resolves disputes in a way that is acceptable to both parties. The suggestion that consumers have an advantage in the process simply reflects a misunderstanding of the spirit of arbitration. The government should work with the council to promote what is essentially a win-win proposal for businesses and consumers.