Government agencies have conducted daily enforcement checks on food and beverage (F&B) outlets, as well as pivoted nightlife establishments, since October last year, with about 400 outlets inspected in each operation, said the police and the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE) on Tuesday (20 July).
In a joint statement, the authorities noted that over 400 nightlife establishment operators have received the Singapore Food Agency’s (SFA) food-shop or snack counter licence and temporarily pivoted to F&B operations.
“Many of these pivoted establishments have fully complied with the requirements. Others, disappointingly, have not been responsible,” they stated.
The authorities added that joint enforcement operations involving various government agencies and the police have also been conducted over 20 weekends and all festive periods since October last year.
“To date, agencies have imposed around 100 closure orders on F&B outlets, including around 40 pivoted establishments, with around 10 repeat offenders.
“The operators also face further enforcement action including fines and prosecution in court,” they noted.
According to them, SFA has permanently revoked the licence of three pivoted establishments since a tighter penalty regime was put in place in May this year, whilst four more could have their licence revoked, pending investigations.
“Breaches by pivoted nightlife establishments account for the vast majority of repeated egregious breaches. SMM breaches committed by this group of establishments are flagrant and carry much higher public health risks,” they added.
Furthermore, the police said they have conducted a total of 202 operations against licensed public entertainment outlets, including those which had pivoted to F&B, as well as against unlicensed public entertainment outlets between October last year to 10 July this year.
They noted that 540 checks on such outlets were conducted in these operations, which resulted in the detection of 58 Public Entertainment Act and Liquor Control Act infringements, and 595 Safe Management Measures (SMM) breaches.
This has also resulted in the arrest of 142 individuals for various offences.
While the authorities noted that government agencies will continue to carry out enforcement actions against errant outlets, they stressed that business operators and patrons must play their part to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“Enforcement against irresponsible behaviour is but one of the tools to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and we cannot be relying just on it, nor expect it to be able to fully ensure compliance. There is a limit to what enforcement can achieve.
“Business operators and patrons must play their part, and abide by the SMMs put in place. Individual responsibility is more important and in fact, the most effective and sustainable means for us to overcome COVID-19. All of us have to play our part,” they said.
It was announced on 20 October last year that nightlife establishments were not allowed to reopen in their original form for some time, as the nature of their activities poses a high risk of COVID-19 transmission.
Subsequently, on 6 November last year, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) announced a pilot programme for the nightlife industry to allow a limited number of nightlife outlets to reopen with stringent safe management measures (SMMs).
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.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has recently announced that all nightlife establishments that had pivoted to F&B operations will be suspended from 16 July to 30 July, amid spikes in the number of COVID-19 cases in the KTV cluster.
The KTV cluster has grown to a total of 207 cases as of Tuesday, 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.
Netizens slam the authorities for “giving excuses”
Penning their thoughts under the comment section of Channel News Asia’s Facebook post on the matter, many netizens slammed the authorities for “giving excuses”, noting that enforcement actions are “more critical” than hoping the outlet operators to act responsibly.
One netizen wrote: “Please stop giving excuses. It’s either you are having half past six officers to do the checking or they have been just going through the motion. Otherwise, how did the KTV cluster became our nightmare.”
Another netizen highlighted that there was “no emphasis on wanting to do better” in the authorities’ statement, as they seem to push the blame on the nightlife venue operators.
A total of 32 KTV lounges have been raided so far
The police have raided a total of 32 KTV lounges so far, which including the operation against illegal entertainment venues and pivoted KTV lounges operating as F&B outlets.
The first operation was conducted on 13 July, which involved three pivoted KTVs operating as F&B outlets along South Bridge Road, Selegie Road, and Geylang Road.
20 women of various nationalities were arrested for their suspected involvement in vice-related activities within the three KTVs. They are aged between 20 and 34.
The three KTVs are also being investigated for breaches of safe management measures, as the operators had allegedly provided hostessing services within their premises. One of the outlets had also allegedly provided dice games, a prohibited entertainment activity under the regulation.
The second raid was reported on 16 July, in which a total of 27 pivoted KTV lounges were checked by the police in an island-wide anti-crime operation from 13 July to 15 July.
Of the 27 outlets, 11 were found to have possibly breached safe management measures.
281 individuals were checked during the operation, and 29 women were arrested for offences under the Women’s Charter, the Immigration Act and the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act.
Of these 29 women, 10 women will be deported for working without a valid work pass and had served as social hostesses within three pivoted KTV lounges operating as F&B outlets.
The latest raid was made against unlicensed public entertainment venues on 17 July, involving two outlets along Selegie Road and Tagore Lane.
The police noted that public entertainment and liquor were believed to have been provided without a licence in both units. Karaoke equipment, liquor bottles and beer cans found at both units were seized for investigations.
A total of 39 people were found socializing in the illegal entertainment units, of which three men – who were believed to be operators of the outlets – were arrested for supplying liquor without a licence.
Whilst the other 36 individuals – 16 men and 20 women, aged between 20 and 38 – are under investigation for alleged non-compliance with safe distancing measures.
Questions ought to be raised on the police “daily enforcement checks”
Interestingly though, the police said that a total of 540 checks on such premises have been carried out between October to 10 July this year, to which the authorities had claimed that these were “daily enforcement checks”.
Considering there were 263 days within that period, we can only infer that two to three outlets were checked daily.
But given the number of recent raids by the police – 32 pivoted nightlife outlets raided between 13 July to 17 July – it is clear that they cannot handle more than a number of consecutive checks in one day.
The “daily enforcement checks” still sounded far-fetched even if we were to take away the 20 weekends and festive holidays.
It is noteworthy that the authorities claimed that around 100 closure orders have been imposed on F&B outlets, including around 40 pivoted establishments, to date. However, it remains uncertain as to whether these numbers include the recent raids and closures as well.
What’s more, an earlier report about a new restaurant being mistaken for a pivoted nightlife outlet raised the question as to whether the police even know the outlets that they are checking, given that their list of pivoted nightlife establishments turned out to be outdated.
It was reported earlier that a new restaurant was mistaken for a pivoted nightlife establishment and was ordered to shut down in less than an hour on a busy Friday night.
In a letter published on The Straits Times (ST) Forum on Tuesday (20 July), restaurant owner Goh Tong Hann claimed that plain-clothes police officers came to his restaurant on Friday night and asked his staff to shut down operations.
“We were given less than an hour to do so. When I probed further, I received three responses – ‘Haven’t you seen the new regulations?’, ‘Didn’t SFA (Singapore Food Agency) send you a message?’ and ‘You are on the list that I have’.”
One of the officers then handed them a flier, which was addressed to “nightlife venues that pivoted to F&B establishments”.
Since “it was clear that the actions were a result of incorrect information”, Mr Goh decided not to close the restaurant that night, until the officers returned at 10pm to shut the restaurant down.
“While I fully understood why we might have been put on that list, I expected SFA and SPF to have done their homework before starting their sting operation.
“From an Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority BizFile+ account and bank accounts, to changing the use of the property and having an SFA licence, all our documents were new.
“A simple search would have shown that we were in no way related to the previous occupants of the unit,” said the new restaurant owner.
Mr Goh asserted that the officers would have been greeted by a large open kitchen in the front of the restaurant, adding that it would have been obvious that the people at the tables were having full meals instead of bar snacks.
“A masquerading nightlife venue we certainly are not,” he stressed.
The police subsequently called Mr Goh on Saturday night, officially permitting the restaurant to stay open.