BY WALTER SIM, Straits Times
A JUDGE will rule on Friday on whether the town council run by the Workers’ Party broke the law when it held a Chinese New Year event without a permit.
District Judge Victor Yeo adjourned judgment yesterday, after hearing prosecutors from the National Environment Agency (NEA) and lawyers for the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) sum up their arguments.
There were sharp words from the prosecution, who accused the AHPETC of, among other things, a “wanton, blatant transgression” of the law.
The council faces one charge under Section 35 of the Environmental Public Health Act, which requires a permit for “any temporary fair, stage show or other such function or activity”.
But the town council maintains that the event from Jan 9 to Jan 30 in Hougang Central was a “community event” or a “mini-fair” held within a common space that it was managing.
Hence, it did not need a permit, its lawyers argued, pointing to Section 18 of the Town Councils Act. It says a town council is to “control, manage, maintain and improve the common property of residential and commercial property in the housing estates”.
NEA prosecutors countered that the law does not give town councils “unfettered powers” to manage estates. They still have to adhere to laws, and are “not given carte blanche to do whatever (they) want”, the prosecution said, adding that permits are required for public entertainment or assemblies held in common areas run by a town council.
Also, the event, which had five stalls selling items like potted plants, cookies and flowers in an area nearly the size of three tennis courts between Blocks 811 and 814, fits the “plain and ordinary meaning” of a temporary fair, NEA lawyers added.
On another point, the AHPETC argued it has taken reasonable care not to flout the law.
NEA lawyers called this an “inconceivable leap of logic”, because AHPETC not only initiated contact with the agency on whether a permit was required, but also “blatantly ignored” subsequent orders to stop the event because it did not have a permit.
A permit is required by law because of social concerns that might arise from fairs being held indiscriminately, such as noise pollution, said NEA lawyers.
The AHPETC insisted it did all it reasonably could, by submitting forms that were asked for, like those for fire safety approval. But it did not get a letter of approval from the area’s Citizens Consultative Committee (CCC), which was chaired by a People’s Action Party grassroots leader. It had deemed the requirement “unreasonable”, and that the CCC was “unelected”.
If convicted, the town council can be fined up to $1,000.