Residents the losers in trade fair tit-for-tat

Trade fair tit-for-tat might be one way to sum up the row between the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) and the People's Association (PA). But first, the back story.

In 2014, the National Environment Agency (NEA) takes AHPETC to task for operating trade fairs without licences. Officers of the town council were later summoned to court and six stallholders were served Notices to Attend Court for hawking without a licence. The offences were compounded. AHPETC claimed trial but failed and was ordered to pay a fine of $800.

Even as that dispute was brewing, the town council took issue with a PA-organised Chinese New Year fair in Aljunied GRC and in January last year, served three notices on the PA for tentage and ropes that had protruded beyond the boundaries of the leased plot and encroached on the council's common property. AHPETC also alleged encroachment for a dustbin placed outside the tentage.

Kovan Merchants' Association, the fair organiser, said the problem was rectified within hours after an inspection by a town council officer. Yet, it was served a summons to the tune of $1,000 a day and backdated to Dec 31, 2013 when the tentage was put up, even though the fair in Kovan's Heartland Mall kicked off a week later.

"We were unclear about the boundaries as we never had any problem before AHPETC took over the running of the town council," said Mr Ng Cher Po, 65, chairman of Kovan Merchants' Association. "The problem was immediately rectified, yet the town council went ahead to issue us the summons."

Mr Ng said he had sought help from MP Chen Show Mao only to be told to approach the town council directly. As the town council would not address their concerns, they paid the fine of $2,900 so as not to be hauled to court. Mr Ng added that AHPETC made no effort to engage the merchants' association even after the fines were paid.

As for stallholders who took part in the town council's fair, Mr Goh Kwee Leng, 64, and three of his workers were issued separate fines. He tells Insight he was unaware the fair was held without a licence.

"AHPETC had held the fair out of goodwill for senior citizens in the estate. The intention was to give them a chance to earn some money by helping out at the fair, yet be able to soak in the atmosphere of the festive season," Mr Goh said.

"This year, I have had many of the senior citizens who participated in last year's fair asking me if there would be another fair this year. They were so disappointed when I told them there wouldn't be any."

Mr Goh said he was disheartened when the trade fair turned into a battleground for NEA and AHPETC and hopes agencies involved can work together for the residents' benefit. Workers' Party chairman Sylvia Lim says the town council is still mulling over whether to seek a judicial review.

Joyce Lim


An earlier version of this story gave the wrong year in which the NEA took AHPETC to task for operating trade fairs without licences. We are sorry for the error.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 30, 2015, with the headline 'Residents the losers in trade fair tit-for-tat'. Print Edition | Subscribe