Workers' Party town council never granted permit to run Chinese New Year fair, court told

Lawyer Peter Low and Workers’ Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim arrive at the State Courts. A court hearing on a summons against the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council for holding an alleged unlicensed trade fair early this year got underway o
Lawyer Peter Low and Workers’ Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim arrive at the State Courts. A court hearing on a summons against the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council for holding an alleged unlicensed trade fair early this year got underway on Tuesday morning. -- ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW 

SINGAPORE - The Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council was never given a permit to run a Chinese New Year fair in Hougang Central in January, a district court heard on Tuesday.

The prosecution in its opening remarks argued that the fair, which featured five stalls selling festive decorations, cookies and sweets, fruits such as pomelo, flowers and assorted potted plants, amounted to a 'temporary fair'. As such, it required a licence under Section 35 of the Environmental Public Health Act (EPHA).

Defence lawyer Peter Low, in turn, said the town council will dispute the allegation that the event was a 'temporary fair', and will seek a clarification on when and under what circumstances the National Environment Agency (NEA) will grant a permit.

According to the statement of facts to which both sides have agreed, the town council -- which had organised and operated the event -- had written to the NEA on Dec 20 last year asking if a permit was required, and if so, for a copy of relevant application forms to be forwarded.

The NEA replied that a permit was required, and sent the forms to the town council.

The town council, when submitting its application, struck off the words 'Trade Fair' from the forms titled "Application for Trade Fair Permit" and "Application for Trade Fair Foodstall Licence", and substituted them with the word 'Event'.

It also stated its event would be held from January 10 to January 30, as opposed to January 9 when it actually began.

By January 9, the NEA informed the town council its application was still incomplete and could not be processed. It then warned the town council to stop operations until a permit was obtained. The town council did not respond to the warning and carried on with the fair.

NEA prosecutor Isaac Tan did not go into details about the missing documents for the application.

The first prosecution witness, Mr Tai Ji Choong, who is NEA's director of the Environmental Health Department, said the town council event constituted a breach of Section 35 of the EPHA. The requirement for a permit for these temporary events is such that "there would not be disamenities caused to the community, including shopkeepers operating in that community", he added.

He said the disamenities include noise nuisance, pest infestation, food hygiene issues and disruption to pedestrian flow.

If found guilty, the town council -- which is represented in court by its chairman Sylvia Lim -- can be fined up to $1,000 and, in the case of a second or subsequent conviction, to a fine not exceeding $4,000 and/or a jail term not exceeding three months.

waltsim@sph.com.sg