On Assignment
Goodbye to Dodgy Massages
How the Massage Establishments (ME) Act keeps vice out of our neighbourhoods.

You probably haven’t noticed them in your neighbourhood, such is their habit of keeping to the shadows – unlicensed MEs that open for business, appear to take in customers at all hours, then close just as quickly as they appeared.

Often a front for vice activities, these MEs have in recent years made inroads into our residential areas. Between 2013 and 2016, the Police detected a 40% increase in the number of unlicensed MEs, with 7% in HDB properties and 40% engaging in vice-related offences.

But with the passing of the enhanced ME Act in Parliament last week, unlicensed MEs will soon find their paths blocked. Here are three things you should know about the revised ME Act.

#1: It Gets Tough with Offenders

Under the new regime, operators of unlicensed MEs can expect tougher penalties such as higher fines and jail sentences. As court cases proceed against offenders, the Police will also be empowered to issue premises closure orders against them.

One way in which unlicensed MEs have entered residential areas in the first place is when irresponsible landlords knowingly lease their premises to them. The revised ME Act curbs this by requiring landlords to evict tenants who operate unlicensed MEs. Those who let their premises be misused for vice activities can be fined and barred from buying another flat.


Home Team News
GRAPHIC: Eline Ang

#2: It Reduces the Regulatory Burden on Compliant Licensed MEs

Did you know that under the previous ME Act, the definition of a “massage or special treatment” included manicures, light treatments for hair removal, fish spas and baby spas?

Such activities don’t pose the same law and order concerns as MEs that offer body massages in private rooms. Under the revised ME Act, the definition of “massage” has been amended so that these activities no longer require a licence, reducing regulatory costs for such businesses.

 

Home Team News
GRAPHIC: Eline Ang

#3: It Allows for Swift and Effective Action Against Errant Licensed MEs

In 2016, the Police found that less than 3% of licensed MEs had vice-related infringements. Thus, while the regulatory burden on the vast majority of low-risk ME operators will be eased, licensed operators who do break the law face tougher penalties (such as higher fines, while repeat offenders also face jail sentences). It’s a calibrated approach that allows the Police to focus its resources accordingly.

Home Team News
GRAPHIC: Eline Ang

Working Together

In reviewing changes to the previous ME Act, the Ministry of Home Affairs consulted with stakeholders such as the Spa Association Singapore, the Spa & Wellness Association of Singapore and the Real Estate Developers’ Association of Singapore. These industry associations agreed that tougher action had to be taken against unlicensed MEs.

With the support of the community at large and stronger enforcement levers, unlicensed MEs will soon find fewer paths into our neighbourhoods – and that’s a good thing!

Read the Second Reading Speech and Wrap-Up Speech for the revised ME Act, delivered by Second Minister Ms Josephine Teo, Minister, Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Manpower and Second Minister for Home Affairs.

© 2019 Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore. All Rights Reserved.


  1. by Mike Tan
  2. 17 November 2017
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