SINGAPORE — It would have been wrong to treat all KTV operators who wanted to pivot to food & beverage (F&B) activities as "crooks", said Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam in Parliament on Monday (26 July).
"It has been suggested: We should have assumed or known that KTVs will cheat, allow themselves to become semi-brothels, even though they were only allowed to provide F&B," said Shanmugam, who also noted a recent commentary that suggested the government was effectively "in cahoots" with the KTV joints.
The minister told the House, "We were neither in cahoots nor as naive."
Responding to parliamentary queries on the enforcement actions taken against KTV joints, in light of the ongoing KTV COVID-19 cluster that numbered 237 cases as of Sunday, Shanmugam noted that such outlets, many of which cater to families, had been "crying out for help".
More than 400 such businesses converted to F&B, and more than 100 operators exited the industry. "We were prepared to let them try. We know there were some who had a dodgy reputation. Should we have said, no you cannot convert to F&B?"
And while it might have seemed common sensical to say some of the operators were "dodgy, doubtful", it was not as straightforward in the law, considering that they had "committed no offence" at that point, added Shanmugam.
Multiple enforcement operations
Questions about enforcement have been raised in the wake of the KTV cluster, which is now the second largest infection cluster in Singapore since the start of the pandemic. The Jurong Fishery Port cluster, which has been linked to 792 cases, is currently the largest.
Earlier this month, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry taskforce on COVID-19, told reporters that enforcement remains a "cat and mouse" game, with illegal gatherings taking place in many other settings too.
On Monday, Shanmugam revealed that from Oct 2020 to 10 Jul 2021, police conducted 202 operations against pivoted outlets, as well as other outlets which were operating illegally. This translates to one police operation a day, on average.
These operations resulted in the detection of 58 Public Entertainment Act and Liquor Control Act infringements, 595 safe management measure (SMM) breaches and 142 arrests.
This "risk assessed approach", said Shanmugam, was generally working before the Delta variant came into the KTVs and created a cluster. He stressed that authorities decided to revert to the Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) restrictions because of the Jurong Fishery Port cluster, and not the KTV cluster.
The minister noted, "Realistically, the people who are going to cheat, going to do illegal things, will do them anyway. They will use lounges, flats, warehouses, various places, it goes on, regardless of whether we allow the change to F&B."
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