Tuition centre director fined by court for not wearing mask properly in school on 10 occasions
SINGAPORE: The director of an education and tuition centre located in a shopping mall was fined S$2,700 on Friday (Oct 15) for failing to wear a mask over his nose and mouth on 10 occasions.
Kwang Geok Ming, 56, had been warned after his first offence and told to pay a S$300 out-of-court fine by a certain date, but failed to make payment.
Instead, he went on to reoffend multiple times.
Kwang on Friday pleaded guilty to three counts of failing to wear a mask properly without reasonable excuse, with another seven counts taken into consideration.
HIS INITIAL ARGUMENTS
Before pleading guilty, he told the court that he was actually wearing a mask on a few occasions but that it was on his chin. He added that on one occasion, he had taken down his mask to answer a phone call.
The judge told him that the offence was made out as the mask was not worn over his nose and mouth, adding that "there is no exclusion in the law that says if you are answering a phone call you can bring down the mask".
He also suggested that a safe-distancing ambassador at the mall had deliberately taken photos of him after he argued with the ambassador.
"Your honour, I have checked with a law firm, I think it's very difficult and challenging for us to get a lawyer, it costs at least S$15,000," claimed Kwang.
He asked the judge whether it would be an offence if a person took down his mask to drink water and was photographed by a safe-distancing ambassador in that moment.
District Judge Prem Raj told him he was not going to advise him further. He told Kwang that he was not going to take his guilty plea if he did not accept the facts fully and unreservedly, but Kwang changed his mind and decided to plead guilty to all the facts.
The judge gave him time to reconsider and to make sure his guilty plea was entirely voluntary, after which Kwang confirmed that it was.
NOT WEARING A MASK PROPERLY ON MULTIPLE OCCASIONS
The court heard that Kwang was the director and shareholder of Newscastle Education Centre, a commercial education and tuition centre at the basement of Wisteria Mall in Yishun.
Under the control order regulations, every individual must wear a mask at all times when they are not at home.
On Oct 21, 2020, enforcement officers went to the tuition centre after being alerted by safe-distancing ambassadors that Kwang had repeatedly failed to wear a mask over his nose and mouth even after being reminded to do so.
The officers observed Kwang sitting, standing or walking around the counter at the tuition centre without a mask over his nose and mouth.
At the time, he was neither engaging in strenuous physical exercise nor consuming food, drink or medication. These are valid exclusions to the mask rule.
Another woman was observed to be in the premises.
Safe-distancing ambassadors saw Kwang without a mask over his nose and mouth again on the evening of Dec 1, 2020. He was sitting behind the front counter and interacting with a customer.
On Mar 25, 2021, the ambassadors again saw Kwang talking on the phone at the outlet without a mask over his nose and mouth. Two women were also in the premises.
HE WAS GIVEN A CHANCE BUT DID NOT ACCEPT IT: PROSECUTOR
Ministry of Education prosecutor Desmond Tan asked for a total fine of S$3,000, noting that the offences took place over six months from October 2020 to March 2021.
"He was given a chance initially to compound one offence," said Mr Tan. He said Kwang was told he would be prosecuted if he did not accept the notice of composition of S$300 payable by Dec 7, 2020.
He was reminded not to commit further offences, but "unfortunately the accused did not accept the composition", said Mr Tan.
According to him, Kwang was granted a further extension of the deadline on Dec 14, 2020 to pay the composition fine, but he did not.
"The point we are bringing is that the accused has been given chances to resolve this matter instead of coming to court but has elected not to do so," said Mr Tan.
However, he also acknowledged that most of these instances were in a private place with not that many people involved.
Kwang sought leniency, saying that the S$800 fine the prosecutor was asking for in one of the charges was probably "a pair of shoes" for a "high-income earner". However, for him, it was three months' worth of breakfast expenses for the whole family.
The judge explained the total fine of S$2,700 he was imposing on Kwang, before asking if he required instalments to pay.
Kwang then asked: "Is it possible, S$2,500?"
At this, the judge told him he had already made his decision and that he could not and would not change the fine amount.
Kwang said he would pay the full sum on Friday, and asked the judge if there would be any criminal record for his case.
"There will be a criminal record," answered the judge.
For each count of failing to wear a mask over his nose and mouth without reasonable excuse, he could have been jailed up to six months, fined up to S$10,000, or both.