Sim Lim: Scapegoats, pirates and why it is so hard to shut them
Mobile Air has been served a Voluntary Compliance Agreement, following the 18 complaints received between January and October 2014.
A Voluntary Compliance Agreement is a document that requires the recipient company to cease unethical business practices. If they continue to do so, they risk getting hit by an injunction from the High Court.
If the business does not comply with the injunction, it may be charged with contempt of court, resulting in a fine or imprisonment.
This week, another shop at Sim Lim Square, Cyber Maestro, was served with a permanent injunction after attracting seven complaints from July to September 2014.
(This case was more than Singaporeans can bear)
Would enforcement work though? This magazine understands that it is common for underground businesses to hire the use of professional scapegoats, or “Tua Peh Kongs” – individuals who are paid to take the rap to go to prison.
For decades, illegal trade in pirated software and stolen goods were common. When the Sim Lim Square management is public about seeking help, you know the problem is deep rooted. Sim Lim Square is a Strata Title building, they are not landlords. You can buy the shop space if you have the money and the management cannot kick you out.
I remember in the 90s, when sales of pirated software was booming, authorities would conduct raids almost every other day. Once shop owners get news of a raid, they would shout at all customers shoo-ing them out of the shop, pull the shutters down (the shutters are almost always half down ready to slam shut) and run down to the kopitiam at the basement for a casual coffee: in clear defiance of authority.
The ringmasters meanwhile, are far, far away – kept many arms lengths away from young scapegoats who will take the brunt of punishment when caught up with the law.
Scapegoats get good protection from their bosses. Besides a good salary, they get places to live in and their families are cared for whilst in prison.
I feel that the public shaming exercise conducted recently, though entertaining, will do little to actually deter these businesses. These are not ordinary thin skinned office executives. This is no Anton Casey with a reputation to protect. These are hardened crooks and they know what they’re in for.
They have capital and they have resource. They are organised enough to continue their trade even after a shutdown. Unless you arrest the mastermind at the root (which won’t be easy), chances are these shops will continue operating after a simple renovation.
Here’s what you can actually do to deter the practices of these businesses:
Keep lodging complaints to the Police and CASE: they need these complaints to launch sanctions
Go to the Small Claims Tribunal. This was what pissed off Mobile Air – they lost the case and was ordered to give a refund. Small Claims is not expensive and you cannot be represented by lawyers
Understand that people cannot pay you in coins if you reject it (enforced by the Currency Act)
Don’t buy from dodgy shops. Tell especially your foreign friends not to patronise them. Businesses thrive on profit. If there is no money, there is no reason for them to be there.