WP town council trial ends; judgment expected end-November

Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) chairman Sylvia Lim arriving at the State Courts with her lawyer Peter Low on Thursday. The trial to decide if the Workers' Party town council flouted the law in holding an unlicensed Chin
Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) chairman Sylvia Lim arriving at the State Courts with her lawyer Peter Low on Thursday. The trial to decide if the Workers' Party town council flouted the law in holding an unlicensed Chinese New Year event concluded on Thursday, with a judgment on the case expected by end-November. -- ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

SINGAPORE - The trial to decide if the Workers' Party town council flouted the law in holding an unlicensed Chinese New Year event concluded Thursday, after two-and-a-half days of hearings.

The defence closed its case after calling party chairman Sylvia Lim, and two employees of the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) to the stand. The two staffers testified on procedural matters, like the authenticity of documents central to the trial.

Earlier Thursday, National Environment Agency (NEA) prosecutor Isaac Tan, in cross-examing Ms Lim - who heads the town council - challenged her reasons for going ahead with the event in Hougang Central in January although it did not have a permit.

Mr Tan pointed out that NEA had from the outset said the event needed a permit under Section 35 of the Environmental Public Health Act.

AHPETC, despite thinking otherwise, did not once inform NEA of its position that the event was a "mini-fair" or a "community event" that would not require a permit, he added.

AHPETC has used the terms to describe the event during the trial, arguing that it was not a "temporary fair" or a "trade fair" as classified under the Act.

Mr Tan said: "If the town council truly believed that it did not require a permit, it would have put that unequivocally (to the NEA)."

Ms Lim, an MP for Aljunied GRC, disagreed.

She said it was for a "higher authority", and not the town council, to determine this and hence, did not go into legal issues.

She added that the nature of the event was already made clear in its name - "Lunar New Year Flora and Community Fair 2014". A fellow MP, Mr Low Thia Khiang, also wrote a letter to the NEA saying the event would bring "a sense of holiday cheer to the community", she added.

Mr Tan also argued the town council's submission of the forms indicated it accepted NEA's advice that a permit was required. This, even as it replaced the words "trade fair" with "event", and submitted an accompanying letter saying the form "does not represent our agreement (with NEA) as to the nature of the event".

Ms Lim disagreed. She said the applications were submitted only on NEA's insistence, and to "avoid any problems during the event".

They were "trying to take a practical way to solve the impasse" by providing some of the accompanying documents requested by the NEA, like approval from the Singapore Civil Defence Force, said Ms Lim.

But they did not submit a complete application because they deemed the requirements unreasonable.

"If the NEA had given us a form suitable for our purpose we would have submitted it in full," she said. "(We were) hamstrung because some of the approvals that NEA wanted us to furnish would be unworkable."

Ms Lim had said on Wednesday that among the conditions for permits to be granted was a letter of approval from the Citizens Consultative Committee (CCC) of the area. In this case, it was under the ambit of Bedok Reservoir-Punggol CCC, which is chaired by a People's Action Party grassroots leader.

"We have certain duties to discharge in the management of a common area which is within our jurisdiction," she argued.

She added that the event ran its full course from Jan 9 to 30 despite NEA's orders to stop operations, because "we came to the conclusion that these matters may need to be resolved before the court".

District Judge Victor Yeo is expected to give his decision by end-November.