The Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), run by the opposition Workers’ Party, was on Wednesday (Dec 24) fined S$800 for holding a festive trade fair without a permit earlier this year.
A district court had found the town council guilty on Nov 28 for flouting Section 35 of the Environmental Public Health Act. AHPETC faced a fine of up to S$1,000.
AHPETC ARGUES FOR NOMINAL FINE
In its mitigation plea, defence lawyer Peter Low said AHPETC “is not deserving of the maximum fine” of S$1,000 and instead argued for a nominal fine of S$200.
He urged the court to take into account the particular circumstances that the town council found itself in at the time of the offence. Among them, that AHPETC was uncertain as to whether the National Environment Agency (NEA) would require the town council to apply for a permit for organising its Chinese New Year fair.
The town council also went ahead to fill up the application form it received from the NEA despite having reservations over the requirements in the form.
Mr Low also argued that the town council showed substantial compliance of NEA’s demands, and when the town council highlighted to NEA that some of the requirements were unreasonable, the agency “maintained silence as to why it imposed unreasonable conditions”. These conditions include getting support from the area’s Citizens’ Consultative Committee for the running of the fair.
Mr Low said AHPETC “honestly believed it was justified in proceeding without a trade fair permit”.
Prosecution lawyer Isaac Tan though said the town council was deliberate in its action and unremorseful.
Elaborating on his grounds for sentencing, District Judge Victor Yeo said the undisputed fact was that the town council made a conscious decision to start its fair a day earlier despite being told by the NEA that its application for a permit was incomplete. He reiterated that the true objection of the town council centred on the conditions attached to the permit and not the requirement for a permit.
He added AHPETC had also ignored repeated warnings by the NEA that it could face prosecution if it continued with the fair. The fair ran its full course for three weeks.
A nominal fine, said the judge, would send the wrong signal to others who want to organise temporary fairs.
“In deciding on the appropriate fine to impose other than the duration of the the temporary fair, I have also considered the nature and the scale of the temporary fair. Suffice for me to note, the event was held at the sheltered Hougang Central Hub, in the vicinity of commercial shops and residential blocks, where considerable human traffic can be expected. The size of the fair was not small as it covered about 560 square metres, accommodating five stalls and numerous benches,” said District Judge Yeo.
AHPETC UNABLE TO ORGANISE ACTIVITIES, SAYS SYLVIA LIM
AHPETC Chairman Sylvia Lim said she respects the court’s decision but is not satisfied with the outcome, adding that the issue is a matter of public interest.
“The reason why we contested the case in court is not because we want to give any problems to any Government agency but we believe there’s a public interest question involved. How Government agencies should exercise the powers given to them under the law and whether they act in a just and fair manner,” she said.
She added that the town council has been hampered in managing common areas under its charge, and that it has not been able to organise activities to benefit residents in the area.
This, said Ms Lim, has also affected the town council’s revenue source.