Phnom Penh’s estimated 298 karaoke parlors and 179 video game arcades must be licensed and regulated, district officials were told Wednesday by Vice Governor Map Sarin at a municipal meeting.
The initiative follows an April 4 request from Monh Saphan, president of the National Assembly’s law procedure committee, who said the parlors and arcades harm values and keep young Cambodians from their studies.
“These clubs do nothing for society but lure Cambodians into immorality,” wrote Monh Saphan in the letter calling for a crackdown.
Many karaoke bars are havens for prostitution, while gambling often occurs in video game parlors, city officials said. Municipal regulations also prohibit video game parlors from being within 200 meters of a school.
According to Map Sarin, the municipality issued a directive last December to license the businesses. Already, the municipality has confiscated hundreds of machines from gaming arcades that were too close to schools, but has yet to close down any karaoke bars. But Wednesday’s meeting marks the beginning of tougher action, city officials said.
“The goal of municipal hall is to control karaoke parlors where suspected sex is taking place,” Chin Por, deputy bureau chief at the municipality, said Wednesday.
Map Sarin said the city also will deny licenses to karaoke bars suspected of engaging in illegal activities or disturbing neighbors by making too much noise.
However, Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development, was skeptical. The new initiative to license and regulate karaoke businesses will do little to stop prostitution but will provide another opportunity for corrupt officials to profit, she said.
“The appearance [of the karaoke parlors] might change but the business will stay the same ….It is noble of [the municipality] to think taxing and licensing will change the businesses but put in practice it will not work because corruption is so widespread,” Chea Vannath said.
She noted that many sex workers merely moved into karaoke parlors following a crackdown on the city’s Toul Kok red light district last year. Many of the brothels also have since reopened.
The owner of the Heng Heng Karaoke parlor on the city’s popular karaoke strip, Street 154, said Wednesday that he knew nothing about the directive. However, he said he has been paying commune officials since the early 1990s to stay in business.
Although there is little he could do to resist the new license, he warned that he would go out of business if he is required to pay for the license. He was adamant that none of his four female singers engage in prostitution.
The karaoke parlor owner also said he was skeptical about the municipality’s ability to regulate the business.
“Usually [business] people are related to powerful people. So officials are unconcerned about the law,” he said.
According to Map Sarin, there is no cost for the licenses but the office which grants them may charge between $10 and $20 for administration costs.