We were not 'naive' about KTV joints: Shanmugam
Police conducted one operation against errant operators every single day, on average, since last October
The recent spread of Covid-19 at some KTV establishments has led some to question why more was not done to prevent them from operating illegally.
In Parliament yesterday, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said there were even suggestions the Government was "in cahoots" with the KTVs or that it was "very naive" to not realise what was happening in such places.
"It has been suggested that we should have assumed or known that KTV operators will cheat, allow themselves to become semi-brothels, even though they were only allowed to provide F&B.
"The truth is, we were neither in cahoots with the KTV operators nor are we as naive as some suggest," said Mr Shanmugam.
The cases uncovered on July 12 were linked to KTV lounges that pivoted into a food and beverage operator due to pandemic restrictions on their usual business.
Highlighting the efforts to ensure rules were being adhered to at these establishments, Mr Shanmugam said that between last October and July 10 this year, the police conducted 202 operations against pivoted outlets as well as other outlets that were operating illegally.
These included operations conducted over 20 weekends and during festive occasions.
The operations resulted in the detection of 58 Public Entertainment Act and Liquor Control Act infringements and 595 safe management measures breaches.
There were 142 arrests for offences under various laws, including the Public Entertainments Act, Liquor Control Act, Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, and Immigration Act. Mr Shanmugam said: "We had one police operation every single day, on average, since October 2020. This, I think, should put to rest any questions (about) enforcement actions by the police."
During his speech in Parliament, he reiterated points made by co-chairs of the multi-ministry task force that recent phase two (heightened alert) restrictions would not have happened if there was only the KTV cluster, but that they were mainly due to the cluster at the Jurong Fishery Port.
As of yesterday, there were 243 cases linked to the KTV cluster - the first a Vietnamese woman who entered Singapore under the "boyfriend/girlfriend" category in February.
The category allowed foreigners to gain short-term visit passes under the Familial Ties Lane.
With a ban on short-term visitors since the start of the pandemic, Mr Shanmugam said the category was introduced to allow Singaporeans who were in relationships with foreign partners to be reunited because they had been separated for a long time.
In February, when short-term travellers from Vietnam could not come in under the Unilateral Opening (UO) due to the worsening Covid-19 situation there, there was a sudden increase in applications under the "boyfriend/girlfriend" category.
Examples of these applications included a Vietnamese applicant with multiple sponsors claiming to be her boyfriend and sponsors applying despite being married to someone else.
Mr Shanmugam said: "ICA moved quite fast. In February, the UO with Vietnam was suspended. The next month, in March, the boyfriend/girlfriend category was scrapped, because we took the view that this was being abused."
In recent police operations against nightlife outlets, Mr Shanmugam said five out of 29 women who were arrested for offences under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act and other laws came under the "girlfriend" category.
National University of Singapore (NUS) sociologist Tan Ern Ser told The New Paper it may be difficult to stamp out such errant behaviour fully as some people would always find ways to skirt the law.
He said: "Those who engaged in illegal activities at the KTV lounges probably thought the benefits far outweighed the costs or that their chances of being caught were quite slim.
"When the law closes in, they will try to find other ways to go about their activities."
However, Prof Tan said this does not mean enforcement efforts should let up.
"Direct enforcement and the softer method of using education to spread the message that breaking pandemic rules can lead to lives lost has had an effect on most people," he said.