No more overcharging
Updated: 2015-08-05 08:49
There is a saying, "One rotten apple spoils the whole barrel". This was probably on the minds of Hong Kong General Chamber of Pharmacy, the trade association of drugstores in the city, when they kicked a member out of its quality assurance scheme after it was found guilty of overcharging a tourist. This move will send an unequivocal message warning that such unethical trade practices will not be tolerated. It is also encouraging that membership requirements of this scheme might be toughened.
It is worth remembering that Hong Kong is completely devoid of natural resources and its survival is largely dependent on the reputation of its services. But the spate of media reports since early this year of tourists being ripped off in all manners of ways cannot help but make people wonder if the current penalties prescribed under the Trade Description Ordinance are sufficiently stiff to exert their intended deterrent effect.
Among the more dramatic recent cases was one involving the misleading omission of information despite the maximum penalty of a fine of HK$500,000 and imprisonment for five years. Then there was the substitution of fake goods for expensive genuine articles, such as attempts by seafood suppliers to pass slices of conch for expensive dried abalone. The malpractice of overcharging has even extends beyond shops frequented by tourists to taxi drivers who exploit Hong Kong's relatively low taxi fares to overcharge their passengers, particularly the tourists. The list goes on.
The city's prosperity really rises and falls on its good reputation. So Hong Kong people are all in it together. As investigators from the Customs and Excise Department and staff of the Consumer Council cannot be omnipresent, all members of the public must pitch in to report any suspected violations of the Trade Description Ordinance. The ordinance prohibits common unfair trade practices deployed against consumers, including false trade descriptions, misleading omissions, aggressive commercial practices, bait advertising, bait-and-switch, and wrongly accepting payment. If every citizen were to treat it as their civic duty to report these, just as reporting crime is, there is no doubt cases of visiting tourists being exploited would substantially reduce. Simultaneously, it is hoped that repeat offenders can be barred from their industry altogether.
Self-discipline is a good thing. But creating systems that make it next to impossible to misbehave is more reliable than self-control. Perhaps it is time for the government to give the reporting hotline more publicity and really encourage the public to use it. This will make it impossible for offenders to escape the eyes and ears of vigilant citizens.
(HK Edition 08/05/2015 page8)