Nightlife business association calls for stronger penalties on errant operators in open letter

The association said its aim is to rebuild, revitalise and restart the nightlife sector with responsible operators. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - An association representing owners of nightlife businesses has urged heavier penalties on operators that flout rules, and will work with the authorities to clamp down on bad actors.

In a proposal outlined in an open letter on Friday (July 23), the Singapore Nightlife Business Association (SNBA) also recommended that the 400 nightlife establishments that switched to the food and beverage sector last October come under police supervision, rather than that of the authorities overseeing food operations.

This is the third ring in its three-ring approach for cleaning up the sector.

The first would be to halt the Covid-19 transmissions that are spreading from KTV outlets, and the second is to offer help and elicit commitments from the 400 pivoted businesses.

The 300-member SNBA said its aim is to rebuild, revitalise and restart the Singapore nightlife sector with responsible operators, and see it out of its current challenges.

"In the past few weeks, the broad spectrum of nightlife has unfairly suffered for the wrongdoings of a handful of errant operators who run unlawful KTVs with unlicensed social hostesses," it said.

"We call only for an understanding that the KTV cluster is not representative of nightlife, not even close."

The cluster was uncovered on July 12, and has since ballooned to more than 220 cases.

It has also been linked to a cluster at Jurong Fishery Port, which surged past 570 cases on Friday.

The large number of cases led to Singapore reverting to a state of heightened alert, which has impacted many businesses, including those in the nightlife industry.

The first ring of the SNBA's proposed approach, to eliminate the KTV cluster swiftly in the coming days, suggests reviewing hot-spot areas, imposing heavier penalties, and setting up a whistle-blowing platform for the public to report bad actors.

Such reports would be directed immediately to the authorities.

The second ring would to help the 400 nightlife businesses now operating as F&B outlets through new measures.

The SNBA would reach out to landlords for support on rental waivers during the current suspension period.

It also wants these operators to undertake a new statutory declaration, and for major alcohol suppliers to develop an industry pledge promoting compliance, transparency and social responsibility.

Other changes it has suggested are to recategorise the 400 establishments and make it compulsory to install security cameras on their premises.

Prior to the pandemic, establishments categorised as nightlife outlets were under the supervision of police and had to have security cameras.

SNBA president Joseph Ong told The Straits Times that what it was suggesting is for the previous measures to be retained, even after pivoting.

"SNBA is asking to revert to some previous checks and balances that were in place prior to the pandemic," he said.

"The hot spots, police and security cameras for clubs, high energy bars and KTVs were all part of those."

For the third ring of its proposed approach, the SNBA said a framework for nightlife operators had to be developed, and included a three-year vision for nightlife operations here.

As part of its three-year vision, the SNBA wants to position Singapore as a clean and safe clubbing destination.

It hopes to work with agencies to rebrand the industry, make training and certification mandatory for business operations, and have regulations for safety.

Mr Andrew Li, the chief executive officer of Zouk Group, said converting its club Capital into a restaurant has saved many jobs.

"Zouk has been able to continue operating only because of the various pivots we have done with our venue," he said.

"Being able to pivot has truly helped keep the Zouk team intact, while saving livelihoods and making sure this 30-year-old Singaporean nightlife brand keeps going while ensuring our patrons dine in a safe and responsible way."

The SNBA said it is committed to supporting the nightlife industry, and that the 400 establishments which have pivoted are largely bona fide businesses that deserve help.

"There will be challenges ahead," it said.

"But by being vigilant and keeping safe, and with responsible practices, and staying together, our industry will emerge stronger through the united effort and collective commitment of all players in the ecosystem."

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