SINGAPORE: Senior Minister of State for Transport Janil Puthucheary said it was "possible", when asked if the Government would file a police report against bike-sharing operator oBike if it fails to refund the mandatory deposit it owes to customers in Singapore.
Dr Puthucheary was speaking in reply to a supplementary question from MP Lim Biow Chuan in Parliament on Monday (Jul 9) on whether the Government would consider making a police report against oBike's directors in the event the company fails to return the deposits it owes to more than 1 million users.
Mr Lim said filing the report will ensure a "proper accounting of the funds" that should be with oBike, but are no longer available to refund consumers.
In reply, Dr Puthucheary said: "I think it’s possible ... This issue falls under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act, which is overseen by the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and the short answer to the member's question is yes.
"But as to how that plays out and what actions are taken and so forth, I think I would have to ask the member to file a question for MTI as to how this might be managed in a way to serve the needs of Singaporeans as well as businesses," said Dr Puthucheary.
After oBike exited the Singapore market, its users are seeking refunds for their mandatory deposits, S$19 and S$49 for students and other users respectively.
The company's chairman Shi Yi told Channel NewsAsia last Wednesday that the total deposits it owed to customers in Singapore amounted to US$4.6 million (S$6.3 million), and stressed that oBike is "proactively looking for a solution to start the refund process".
In his reply to earlier, Dr Puthucheary stressed that oBike’s chairman Shi Yi had publicly and personally committed to a full refund of user deposits.
"oBike is now working out a process with CASE to refund user deposits. I would like to emphasise again that it is oBike’s responsibility to have a concrete plan to refund user deposits and remove its bicycles from public spaces," he added.
Last Friday, oBike's provisional liquidators FTI Consulting said it would be liaising with oBike's management to "discuss whether it is their intention" to provide refunds to users.
In response to this, Mr Loy York Jiun, executive director for the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE), told Channel NewsAsia that oBike had previously committed to raise funds from alternative sources, for example from their shareholders, to provide a full refund of consumers’ deposits.
Following oBike’s exit, another bike-sharing operator Mobike announced that it would be waiving deposits for its Singapore users.
The decision meant that none of the current bicycle sharing operators in Singapore require user deposits.
Dr Puthucheary highlighted that with market pressures and to allow them to better compete with existing operators, incoming operators "are likely to offer their services without deposits".
He added that if there are companies which require user deposits when the licensing regime is implemented from October this year, the Land Transport Authority will study the need for the companies to place a "security deposit or performance bond".