Workers' Party's AHPETC fined $800 for running CNY fair without permit

Workers' Party Chairman Sylvia Lim and her Lawyer Peter Low arriving at court on Dec 24, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW
Workers' Party Chairman Sylvia Lim and her Lawyer Peter Low arriving at court on Dec 24, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

SINGAPORE - The Workers' Party's (WP) town council was fined $800 on Wednesday after it was found guilty last month of breaking the law by holding a Chinese New Year fair without a permit.

The Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPTEC) paid the fine but intends to pursue the matter at the High Court, chairman Sylvia Lim told reporters after the hearing.

Ms Lim, who is also WP chairman, said: "We respect the court's decision and have paid the fine. But we are not satisfied with the outcome of the case."

The town council can appeal against its conviction, its fine or both. If the sentence is overturned, its $800 payment will be refunded.

It can also request a judicial review of the law, among other options.

The AHPETC, which rejected an earlier offer by the National Environment Agency (NEA) of a composition fine of $500 in lieu of prosecution, could have been fined up to $1,000. Under new laws, the maximum penalty has since been raised to $10,000.

District Judge Victor Yeo, who announced the fine on Wednesday, determined in his judgment last month that the Chinese New Year event from Jan 9 to Jan 30 at Hougang Central was a "temporary fair". As such, it required a permit under Section 35 of the Environmental Public Health Act (EPHA).

All trade fair operators must get a permit from the National Environment Agency (NEA) to ensure that they can meet concerns over issues such as food hygiene, safety and noise control.

Judge Yeo said last month that he found it "exceedingly puzzling" that AHPETC did not raise any objections to the requirement of a permit before the fair was conducted.

Instead, the town council submitted an application form by replacing the words "trade fair" with "event". It also failed to attach some necessary supporting documents.

Noting the testimony by Ms Lim, who said that AHPETC would have submitted the form in full if it had deemed the requirements suitable, Judge Yeo said: "The true objection in my view appeared to be the conditions stated in the application form, and not that a permit was required per se."

He added: "To now vigorously mount a challenge that there was no requirement for the town council to apply for a permit is simply unconvincing, to say the least, or a mere afterthought at worst."

The AHPETC had also cited Section 18 of the Town Councils Act to claim that a permit was not needed as the event was held in a common area under their charge.

The section says a town council is to "control, manage, maintain and improve the common property of residential and commercial property in the housing estates".

But Judge Yeo found the argument "wholly misconceived and untenable", agreeing with the prosecution that the Town Councils Act does not "give (a town council) carte blanche to do whatever it chooses within its precinct without any regard to the requirements of the prevailing laws and regulations".