SINGAPORE: Nightclubs and other entertainment outlets such as gaming centres and Internet cafes will have to comply with stricter regulations, after amendments to the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act were passed in Parliament on Monday (May 8).
As part of the changes, the police will be given greater powers to deal with illicit activities more quickly, all nightclubs will be required to install CCTV cameras at entrances and exits, and the maximum penalties for providing public entertainment without a valid licence will be doubled.
During the debate, Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Amrin Amin said the changes are targeted at "a small group of errant establishments".
Last year, for instance, about 20 per cent of the 2,700 public entertainment establishments were found to have breached licensing conditions. Mr Amrin said 90 per cent of those breaches were considered minor, such as failing to maintain a proper record of employees, while the remaining 10 per cent involved major breaches such as overcrowding.
Following the changes, the Act is now known as the Public Entertainments Act. Mr Amrin said that is because the "meetings" it previously covered, such as rallies and forums, are already regulated under the Public Order Act enacted in 2009.
FORCED ENTRY BY POLICE OFFICERS AND APPOINTING AUTHORISED PERSONS WITH INSPECTION POWERS
A new addition to the Act includes allowing the Licensing Officer to appoint “suitably trained” individuals as “authorised persons” to conduct inspections on entertainment establishments and events.
Mr Amrin said this would give the police "operational flexibility" in deploying their manpower more effectively and conducting frequent checks if needed.
However, many Members of Parliament (MP) asked for clarity on what “suitably trained” means, and who would qualify to become authorised officers. Workers' Party MP Sylvia Lim said this clarity is important as officers will be able to retrieve information and interview suspects on site.
“If the Government is referring to auxiliary police officers becoming authorised officers for licensing inspections, does their training cover the necessary skill competencies to handle the confrontational scenarios envisaged in Clause 17?” Ms Lim asked.
MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC Intan Azura also questioned the criteria in appointing individuals to carry out such duties.
Mr Amrin said suitably trained people include auxiliary police officers (APO) and retired police officers with the requisite skill and experience. Even so, Mr Amrin said their powers are only limited to that set out under the Act, which includes making copies of documents and requesting for explanations.
"Routine inspections such as checks on staff records are usually uneventful but in the event of the escalation of violence, authorised officers drawn on the ranks of APOs and retired officers would have received training and experience in managing licensing inspections and managing difficult situations. And they can also call for police backup,” Mr Amrin explained.
Police officers will also be allowed to enter public entertainment premises by using “necessary force” if they suspect that illicit activities are being carried out. Mr Amrin said the reason why they are being empowered with the authority to do so now is that some entertainment outlets have resorted to locking their premises once the police arrives.
“This provides them with the opportunity to dispose of evidence and (gives them) lead time to stop any unlawful activities,” he said.
Currently a search warrant from the courts is needed before the police can gain entry to conduct licensing checks. "The new powers of forced entry will allow police to take swift and effective action to detect and enforce licensing breaches," Mr Amrin told the House.
OTHER CHANGES: MAXIMUM PENALTY INCREASED AND APPEALS BOARD TO BE FORMED
Mr Amrin said current checks are in place to weed out unsuitable individuals from receiving a public entertainment licence. With new changes passed, the assessment will include people who are “related” to the applicant - those with a “substantial” interest in the business and those who are able to control over the applicant’s business. These could include company directors and partners.
The maximum penalty for running a public entertainment outlet without a licence or doing so while the licence is suspended would also be increased from S$10,000 to S$20,000.
Police officers will also be able to immediately suspend a licence if anyone relevant to the business is charged in court for committing serious crimes in connection with the entertainment outlet. These could include drug offences and human trafficking.
In addition, an Appeals Board will be set up to allow an independent review of police licensing decisions. Mr Amrin said members will be appointed from diverse fields that include those in the legal, education and business sector.
In consolidating feedback for making changes to the Act, Mr Amrin said his ministry consulted the public entertainment industry through the Singapore Nightlife Business Association (SNBA). He said close to 180 establishments contributed to the feedback, and that they support the amendments.
MORE CAN BE DONE: MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT
In supporting changes to the Act, some of the 11 MPs who spoke during the debate questioned if more could be done to deal with the scourge of drugs, violence and unruly behaviour within and outside entertainment premises.
“Entertainment outlets such as nightclubs are popular venues for young people to congregate, make friends and have fun,” said MP Joan Pereira.
“There they are open to new and exciting experiences and hence very vulnerable to taking higher risks as they experiment with perceived adult consumables such as smoking, alcohol or drugs … We must ensure a safe environment for them to have clean fun and protect them from the ravages of drugs.”
MP Lee Bee Wah asked if entertainment operators should take greater responsibility in ensuring that public order is maintained in the area around their premises. Mr Amrin said his ministry shared their concerns, and that all nightclubs would be required to install closed circuit cameras at entrances and exits.
“This will deter crimes in and around the public entertainment establishment, as well as facilitate investigations into any such crimes that take place,” he said, adding that many establishments have already installed CCTVs.
Channel NewsAsia understands that the changes are expected to come into force in the later part of this year.