By Wan Ting Koh and Nigel Chin
Massage outlets in Housing Development Board (HDB) areas will not be allowed to operate 24 hours when changes to the law on such establishments come into effect.
These outlets can only operate from 6am to 11pm as part of tighter operating conditions, Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo said in Parliament on Monday (6 November).
The new conditions apply to licenses granted or renewed since August this year and will be fully implemented for all licensees within HDB estates after the amended law comes into force, Teo said, as part of changes to the Massage Establishments Bill, which was passed in Parliament.
The planned measures are part of a slew of enforcement actions for massage parlours, which include stricter penalties on operators of unlicensed massage establishments as well as non-compliant operators of licensed businesses.
Under the amended Bill, operators of unlicensed establishments can be fined up to $10,000 and/or jailed up to two years. This is a tenfold increase from the current maximum fine of $1,000. A second offender can be fined a maximum of $20,000 and/or jailed up to five years, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) announced early last month.
Teo cited figures that showed a 40 per cent increase in the number of unlicensed massage establishments found by the police from 2013 to 2016.
“Many of these were not in fact massage establishments, but fronts for vice activities. The proverbial, wolf in sheep’s clothing, or what in Chinese we refer to, gua yang tou, mai gou rou,” said Teo.
Teo, who is also Member of Parliament for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC, said that there are some 300 licensed massage establishments in HDB estates, out of a total of 1,200 licensed outlets islandwide. Out of the licensed outlets, less than 3 per cent were found to operate vice activities, as compared to 40 per cent of unlicensed outlets carrying out such activities, the police discovered in 2016.
The minister added that with enhanced powers, the police would be able to “take swift and effective action against errant licensees”.
Licensing officers of the establishments would have the power to modify license conditions promptly to deal with massage establishment-related problems, said Teo. For example, if a licensed outlet poses law and order issues, licensing officers can restrict its operating hours.
Errant landlords who allow vice activities to be carried out in their premises will also be clamped down, said Teo. Irresponsible landlords face the same penalties as operators of illicit massage establishments under the amended law.
A total of 11 MPs raised follow-up questions in response to the amendments, including on restricting the number of massage establishments in HDB areas, tighter curbs on advertisements, a demerit system for such establishments, and introducing licensing for masseuses.
Foo Mee Har, MP for West Coast GRC, said that she has received complaints from residents about advertising materials from massage outlets that feature “half naked women [displayed] prominently on shop fronts which operate 24 hours a day”.
She added that some massage establishments have been deceptive in offering their services.
“Many outlets make misleading claims about the advocacy of the massage treatments, with the menu of services offering lymphoma detox, kidney care treatment, ovary care treatment and so on. Some go on to promote special services. For example, one spa promotes their royal prostate package, offering customers two hours of prostate care therapy,” said Foo.
In response, Teo said the police intend to impose new licensing conditions to prohibit licensees from displaying indecent advertisements.
“We will need some time to work out the specific details, but the intent is clear. Advertisements will have to be within certain guidelines,” she said.