BY WALTER SIM, Straits Times
WORKERS’ Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim yesterday set out in court why her town council had gone ahead with a Chinese New Year event in Hougang Central, even though it did not have a permit for it.
She also said the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) had been above board in the matter – it had taken the first step in approaching the National Environment Agency (NEA) on Dec 20 last year, to ask whether a permit was needed for the event. It did so because of “some confusion on the ground” about the NEA’s policies, said Ms Lim, who chairs the town council.
She said she had understood from “persons in the industry” – whom she did not name – that NEA was “not interested to look into events where there was no open food (food cooked on-site) sold and events of a small scale (of) 15 stalls or less”.
The event, which ran from Jan 9 to Jan 30, was held in a 560 sq m space between Blocks 811 and 814. It had five stalls selling festive decorations, cookies, flowers, assorted fruit and potted plants.
Ms Lim, who is also an MP for Aljunied GRC, added: “I decided it was important for the town council to initiate communication with NEA. This was to show that we didn’t mean to hide anything.”
The trial before District Judge Victor Yeo, which started on Tuesday, will decide if AHPETC had flouted the law in holding the event without a permit. The town council claims it was a “community event” or a “mini-fair”. It disputes NEA’s assertions that it was a “trade fair” or a “temporary fair” and hence, required a permit under Section 35 of the Environmental Public Health Act. This law states that a permit is required for “any temporary fair, stage show or other such function or activity”.
On Dec 23 last year, NEA replied to AHPETC’s e-mail, saying it required a permit. It also sent the town council application forms for a “trade fair permit” and a “trade fair foodstall licence”.
But the town council deemed the forms were “not suitable or relevant” as they were meant to be completed by the appointed fair operator. As it was organising the fair, there was no such “appointed operator”. Ms Lim also said she understood a “trade fair” to mean what is colloquially known as “pasar malam” (night market).
Further, among the conditions for permits to be granted was a letter of approval from the Citizens Consultative Committee (CCC) of the area. Ms Lim noted that Hougang Central fell under the ambit of Bedok Reservoir-Punggol CCC, which is chaired by a People’s Action Party grassroots leader.
She said: “Since my colleagues and I were elected to manage the town council under the Town Councils Act, we do not see how the town council should be required to get a supporting letter from the CCC for something held in the common area under our charge.” She understood their duties under the Act to include management of the common areas under the charge of the town council.
As it deems the forms irrelevant, AHPETC asked NEA for the “relevant forms and advice”.
NEA responded with the same set of forms and reiterated that AHPETC, as the event’s organiser, had to apply for a permit.
Ms Lim testified: “We did not find the forms suitable, but we filled it in as per NEA’s request.” She also approved her colleague striking out “trade fair” on the forms and using “event” instead.
Earlier yesterday, the prosecution dismissed the AHPETC lawyer’s argument that a “mini-fair” did not require a NEA permit. NEA lawyer Isaac Tan said: “(The law) makes no distinction between mini-fairs and what has been termed for the purposes of contrast as ‘large fairs’. (It) only talks about temporary fairs with no reference to size.”