【明報專訊】IN view of the myriad unfair sales practices among unscrupulous merchants, the government has released a consultation paper in which it proposes to impose a statutory cooling-off period for beauty and fitness services for better protection of consumers. The statutory cooling-off period is a topic that has been under public discussion for more than ten years but the government has repeatedly backed down in the face of resistance from the business sector. On the surface, the latest plan seems to be the government's active response to public demands. However, the scope and strength of the proposed protection has been scaled back again and again, limiting its deterrent effect. A favourable business environment can coexist with the protection of consumer rights. In Singapore, a cooling-off period is laid down by statute, yet the country ranks higher than Hong Kong in the Ease of Doing Business Ranking. The SAR government has cited the need to "facilitate business activities" as its reason for not fully adopting the regulatory measures proposed by the Consumer Council. Such talk is either a pretext or a reflection of the authorities' conservative mindset (the rigid adherence to the ideology of "avoiding intervention in markets") and their failure to discharge their responsibility for protecting consumers.