Earlier this week, Parliament debated and passed the amendments to the Public Entertainment and Meetings Act. This was reported in Straits Times, TODAY and Channel News Asia.

With these changes, public entertainment establishments will now have to adhere to stricter regulations. Errant entertainment operators will also face stiffer penalties.

For establishments with good track records, Parliamentary Secretary Amrin Amin said MHA would adopt a “light-touch” approach, and will grant these establishments licences for longer periods of time.

Some facts:

  • Public entertainment establishments will include nightclubs, billiard saloons, gaming centres.
  • Four in five public entertainment establishments have good track records of complying with licence conditions.
  • In 2016, there were over 600 cases of breaches for public entertainment licences, of which 10% of them were major.
    • These major breaches included issues such as overcrowding, which could pose a public safety risk.
  • 90% were minor breaches, which include failing to maintain a proper record of all employees, and to ensure that performers do not mingle with patrons.
So what are some of the key changes?

Enhanced powers for police officers and licensing officers

With the changes, police officers will be empowered to enter the public entertainment premises, using force where necessary, if they suspect that illicit activities are being carried out. This will ensure that action can be taken swiftly and more effectively to detect and deter licensing breaches.

Currently, police officers will need to have search warrants before they are able to enter the premises and conduct licensing checks. Mr Amin said that some of these entertainment outlets have locked up their premises once the police arrives, which provided them the chance to “dispose of evidence and (gives them) lead time to stop any unlawful activities).

Police officers can immediately suspend a licence if anyone related to the business is charged in court for committing serious crimes in connection with the entertainment outlet, e.g. drug offences, human trafficking.

Penalties for errant operators will be raised

Maximum amount for errant operators who are providing public entertainment services without a valid licence (or when the licence has been suspended) will also be doubled from $10,000 to $20,000.

Nightclubs will also be required to install CCTV cameras at entrances and exits.

Expansion of assessment in license requirements

Currently, MHA only assesses the applicant in the application of licences.

With the change, MHA will expand their licensing requirements from applicants for the licence – to also assess people who are related, i.e. those with a substantial interest in, or control or direction over the applicant’s business. According to Mr Amrin, this ensures that no one is working “behind the scenes to operate the establishment”.

More yay than nay

To be honest, we could do less with the night-time brawls, drug offences and more safety in this country. (Remember the brawl at St James Power Station, where a 34-year-old died? This is but one of the numerous cases.) There is no disagreeing with the fact that our regulatory framework and laws should keep up with the changes in the public entertainment industry.

Giving police officers more power, especially being able to enter premises to ‘spot check’, would ensure that establishments conducting illegal activities, e.g. drugs would be exposed and stopped. This would help to protect the young and provide them with a safer environment – who are more vulnerable and face higher risks at such entertainment outlets.

What about the arts entertainment amendments?

     Interestingly, amendments to the arts entertainment was not debated in Parliament – though these have been passed.

According to ST, these amendments will not result in any change to the existing arts entertainment content standards or to IMDA’s classification and licensing processes.

E.g. IMDA can refuse to classify arts entertainment held at public entertainment establishments or events which exceed the maximum R18 rating. If these have not been classified, they cannot be staged. This is something that is already done for arts entertainment held at other venues.

IMDA may also impose conditions on arts entertainment held at public entertainment outlets, and licensees may appeal these decisions.