S’pore closed KTV lounges at the beginning of pandemic, then allowed them to reopen under F&B bistro is “massively hypocritical”, says analyst

It is “massively hypocritical” that Singapore closed down nightlife establishments at the beginning of the pandemic for public health reasons, but then allowed them to reopen under the pretense of “pivoting” towards food and beverage (F&B) bistro later, said political intelligence analyst at MetisAsia, Andy W.

In a LinkedIn post on Saturday (17 July), Mr Andy highlighted that the “true reason” for Singapore’s recent largest domestic outbreak of COVID-19 – the KTV cluster – is “organised crime” and the “institutional failure” in dealing with it.

“Singapore’s image as a ‘law and order’ city is a glittering mirage,” he remarked.

“A city where the plebs get policed, whilst rich, well-connected figures in the criminal underworld are allowed to continue their front operations with tacit government approval. And it took COVID-19 for real societal prices to be paid,” said the analyst.

The KTV cluster has grown to 168 cases as of Monday (19 July), since it was first announced on 12 July. The index case was a Vietnamese hostess on a short term visit pass sponsored by her “boyfriend” to come to Singapore.

Over 400 nightlife establishments that have pivoted into F&B outlets have been suspended for two weeks since Friday. The authorities will also inspect the establishments’ safe management protocols before allowing them to resume their F&B operations after 30 July.

In fact, it was reported on Friday that the police have arrested 29 women of various nationalities, aged between 20 and 47, in an operation targeting pivoted KTVs, of which 10 of them will be deported as their short-term visit passes and work passes were cancelled.

But KTV lounges with freelance hostesses have been operating in Singapore “for decades” with the same business model, and “normalised” to the point of being an integral part of many business dealings and contract closures in Singapore, particularly with Chinese clients, said Mr Andy.

“You’d get periodic raids on such premises, with nice media photos of hostess women being mass arrested and deported. But the lounges never closed for good. None of the real owners ever got prosecuted.

“Arrests always stopped at the freelance hostesses. Lounges got to claim ignorance by the fact that the girls are never registered as employees, but entered as ‘patrons’, working illegally in Singapore on short-term visitor or student passes,” he added.

In August last year, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) announced a pilot programme for nightlife establishments to be allowed to reopen with COVID-19 safety measures.

The ministries added that nightlife establishments not under the pilot programme could opt to “pivot to other permission activities” if they wanted to operate. They would also have to adhere to the COVID-19 measures.

The pilot programme was actually delayed in January 2021 until further notice, amidst a rise in community cases, but nightlife establishments operating as F&B outlets were allowed to continue operating at that time.

To this, Mr Andy said: “It’s massively hypocritical that Singapore closed down its only legal red light district at the beginning of the pandemic for public health reasons, did the same with these illegal brothels with lounge fronts, but then allowed them to reopen under the pretense of ‘pivoting’ towards F&B ‘bistro’ business models after August 2020.”

He pointed out that no law enforcement ever went to check whether the pivoted KTV lounges were actually bistros.

“Many lounges simply claimed to be one and served takeaway food from nearby food outlets to their patrons, who were there for the booze and the girls,” said the analyst.

He added that Singaporean ministers are now “feigning shock” that such loopholes were discovered and abused, when there is “nothing new about it”.

“Institutional failure to deal with the true backing behind organised crime that can run such karaoke lounge fronts for sexual vice has been existing for decades in Singapore,” he asserted.

The Vietnamese woman, who was the “index case” in the KTV cluster, is a short-term visit pass holder who entered Singapore in February via the familial ties lane.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) said on 16 July that the woman was sponsored by her Singaporean citizen boyfriend, clarifying that the familial ties lane facilitates entry of foreign with “intimate ties” in Singapore.

This is another institutional failure that showed how Singapore dealt with foreigners in “very different manners”, said Mr Andy.

“It must rankle expats in Singapore who can’t get assurances of being allowed back into the country if they wished to return home now to visit family after more than a year apart, to know that as recently as March 2021, Singapore’s ICA was still allowing in foreign girls claiming familial ties with ‘boyfriends’ here in Singapore, with zero vetting of their actual relationship nature, nor of their actual intent in coming to Singapore,” he said.

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