Sunday, 30 November 2014

Workers’ Party-run AHPETC found guilty of holding fair from 9 to 30 January 2014 without permit

Argument by town council’s lawyers wholly misconceived and untenable, says judge
By Amanda Lee, TODAY, 29 Nov 2014

The Workers’ Party-run Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) was yesterday found guilty of holding a Chinese New Year fair earlier this year without a permit. Sentencing was adjourned to Dec 24 and the town council could be fined up to S$1,000.

Delivering his oral judgment for almost two hours, District Judge Victor Yeo threw out what he described as “somewhat convoluted and perplexing” legal arguments by the town council’s lawyers. Ruling that the event fell under the definition of a “temporary fair” — and thus was subject to a permit under Section 35 of the Environmental Public Health Act (EPHA) — the judge said the argument by AHPETC’s lawyers that the fair should be construed as a “social and communal function” and a “mini fair” was “wholly misconceived and untenable”.

The judge also noted that at no point had AHPETC informed or sought clarification from the National Environment Agency (NEA) on whether a permit was required for its event.

“For the defence to now vigorously mount a challenge that there were no requirements for the town council to apply for a permit is simply unconvincing, to say the least, or a mere afterthought at worse,” he added.

Over the two-and-a-half-day trial last month, AHPETC’s lawyers also argued that the town council had the “lawful authority” to hold the fair, citing Section 18 of the Town Councils Act, which states that the functions of a town council include “to control, manage, maintain and improve the common property of the residential and commercial property in housing estates”.

It also argued that Section 35 of the EPHA is “substantively invalid” and does not apply to town councils, which are governed by the Town Councils Act.

Judge Yeo pointed out that, under the Town Councils Act, the Town Councils (Use of Common Property) Rules merely empower a town council to impose charges only for stipulated use or activities on parts of common property such as void decks, dismissing the argument of AHPETC’s lawyers that Section 35 of the EPHA and the NEA’s enforcement of the section against the town council would amount to “encroachment, bind and fetter upon the lawful powers, autonomy and reasonable discretion” vested upon any town council and its officers.

Judge Yeo said the Town Councils Act and EPHA had been enacted for a wholly different purpose and that they covered separate issues.

In enacting the Town Councils Act, it could not have been Parliament’s intention for the town councils to be exempt from the licensing laws of the land in their control and management of common property without expressly stating so, he pointed out.

It is also clear that the Town Councils Act covers municipal matters and allows town councils to regulate the use of parts of common property and impose charges for such use, while the EPHA is concerned with wider environmental and public-health concerns that affect the public.

The judge noted that the fair had been held in a public area in the vicinity of commercial shops and residential blocks, where considerable human traffic could be expected. The fair, which ran from Jan 9 to 30 at Hougang Central Hub, had five stalls.

“Given that the temporary fair operated for an extended period of time of three weeks … I am not able to lightly dismiss the prosecution’s contention of the potential disamenities and inconvenience associated …which could affect the pedestrian flow,” Judge Yeo said.

The judge ruled that AHPETC had not taken “reasonable care” to avoid committing the offence. He noted that for instance, there was no communication from AHPETC although the NEA warned that it would proceed with enforcement action if the town council commenced the fair without a permit.

“The facts of this case clearly do not support the defence’s contention that the town council had made a mistake of fact that it was either bound by law or justified by law to organise a temporary fair without a permit,” said Judge Yeo.

WP Members of Parliament (MPs) Pritam Singh and Png Eng Huat, who are the vice-chairmen of AHPETC, were at the hearing yesterday as the judge read out his verdict. They issued a media statement saying that they were disappointed with the ruling. “But we will consult our lawyers on our legal options and do not rule anything out,” the statement added.

Mr Singh also told reporters outside the court that the WP MPs are contributing to the lawyer fees and “no town council funds will be touched pertaining to this case”.





* AHPETC's defence in trade fair case unconvincing: Judge
By Rachel Chang, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 5 May 2015

THE judge who fined the Workers' Party-run town council for holding a trade fair last year without a permit has set out the full grounds for his decision.

District Judge Victor Yeo said in a document released last week that he found the town council's main defence - that it believed it did not require a permit - to be unconvincing.

The Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) ran the Chinese New Year fair at Hougang Central Hub for 22 days despite the National Environment Agency (NEA) refusing to issue it a permit.

It was fined $800 by Judge Yeo last December. AHPETC paid the fine, but filed a notice of appeal, which requires the judge to release his full grounds for the decision. Now, AHPETC has one month to decide whether to proceed with the appeal.

AHPETC had two lines of argument on why it did not require a permit.

The first was that the fair was held in a common area, which the Town Councils Act gives it the power to manage.

But Judge Yeo wrote that the Act does not "exempt town councils from the licensing laws of the land". The requirement to get an NEA permit to hold a temporary fair is one such national licensing law, he said.

AHPETC's second line of defence was it thought only a pasar malam required a permit, and its fair, with about five stalls, was a "community event" or "mini-fair".

Judge Yeo said he found these arguments unconvincing as AHPETC had e-mailed the NEA to check if a permit was required. NEA said "yes" and gave AHPETC the application forms.

AHPETC submitted an incomplete set of forms, missing documents it said were unreasonable demands - like a letter of support from the Citizens' Consultative Committee.

It also crossed out the words "trade fair" on the forms and replaced them with "event".

If AHPETC did not believe it required a permit, then its actions in submitting an incomplete and altered set of forms were "exceedingly puzzling", said the judge. Also, AHPETC did not explain its reasoning to NEA via e-mail at the time.

"At the very least, it was imperative to communicate something as fundamental, and as straightforward as this to the NEA," he wrote. But its actions in the exchange with NEA showed that it had a problem only with the suitability of the application forms, rather than the requirement of a permit per se.

The judge rejected AHPETC's argument that it had acted in good faith, calling its decision to cease correspondence with NEA over the permit "a conscious and deliberate move". And over the course of the fair, it met NEA's warnings to stop the fair "with complete silence and defiance".





* Workers' Party's AHPETC fined $800 for running CNY fair without permit
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 24 Dec 2014

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".





Town council deliberately flouted the law: NEA
TODAY, 29 Nov 2014

Following the court’s verdict, the National Environment Agency (NEA) yesterday said Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) had “sought to disingenuously portray its deliberate flouting of the law as an attempt to obtain guidance from the court” during the trial from Oct 14 to 16.

“AHPETC had neither sought clarification from the NEA nor raised any legal grounds when it deliberately held a fair without a permit. As the judge found, AHPETC did not take reasonable care to obtain the necessary licence as required under Section 35 of the EPHA (Environmental Public Health Act) and avoid committing the offence,” the NEA said in a media statement. “Instead, AHPETC chose to deliberately and persistently breach Section 35 of the EPHA.”

The NEA said the conviction of AHPETC affirmed the intent of the section, which is to protect the public from public-health concerns and disamenities arising from temporary fairs.

The NEA reiterated that it had informed AHPETC of the need for a permit and repeatedly reminded the town council that its application had been incomplete. The agency had also issued “multiple warnings” to the town council to stop the fair after it commenced without a permit. In spite of these, AHPETC persisted in breaking the law, the NEA pointed out.

The agency reiterated that it requires temporary-fair operators to have a licence to ensure public-health concerns and disamenities arising from these fairs, such as food hygiene, waste management and noise nuisance, are addressed.

The concerns of the public and other stakeholders, such as shopkeepers, are taken into consideration. The same permit requirements are imposed on all applicants, it added.

Between 2011 and Oct 31 this year, there were 16 instances where errant operators of unlicensed fairs were taken to task, the NEA said. The fairs that were penalised were located in Tampines, Toa Payoh, Simei, Clementi, Kovan City, Bukit Merah, Kampong Glam, Chinatown, Serangoon North, Rivervale Walk and Tanglin Halt.





Judge says CNY event required a permit
He says AHPETC broke law, event fits dictionary definition of a 'fair'
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 29 Nov 2014

THE town council run by the Workers' Party (WP) has been found guilty of breaking the law by holding a Chinese New Year event this year without a permit.

District Judge Victor Yeo, in delivering his judgment yesterday, said the event from Jan 9 to Jan 30 at Hougang Central was a "temporary fair" and thus required a permit under the Environmental Public Health Act (EPHA).

Judge Yeo said it fits the dictionary definition of a "fair": a gathering of buyers and sellers at a particular place and time. He noted the law makes no reference to the purpose or type of fair, its size, scale, location or duration.

He will pass sentence on the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) on Dec 24. It can be fined up to $1,000.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) had, before the trial, offered the town council a composition fine but it was rejected.

Over 2½ days of hearings last month, AHPETC argued that the fair, with five stalls selling items like cookies between blocks 811 and 814, was a "community event" or a "mini-fair" to bring festive cheer.

Therefore, it disputed NEA's argument that it was a "temporary fair" that required a permit.

Yesterday, the judge said he found it "exceedingly puzzling" that AHPETC did not once raise its objections with the NEA over the requirement of a permit.

Instead, it submitted an application form, replacing the words "trade fair" with "event" and did not attach all the necessary supporting documents. While it sought approval for fire safety, its application form did not include a letter of support from the area's Citizens' Consultative Committee.

AHPETC chairman Sylvia Lim had previously testified that this condition was "unreasonable".

Judge Yeo, noting Ms Lim's testimony that AHPETC would have submitted the form in full if it were suitable, 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 worse."

AHPETC had 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. Section 18 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". He said the Act does not impinge on the EPHA, which deals with "wider environmental and public health concerns which affect the public at large", such as pest infestation and noise nuisance, he added.

He agreed 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".

AHPETC's vice-chairmen Pritam Singh and Png Eng Huat said: "We are disappointed with the verdict but we will consult our lawyers on our legal options and do not rule anything out."

NEA said last night operators of temporary fairs need a licence to address public health concerns. It took action against 16 unlicensed fair operators between 2011 and Oct 31 this year. These fairs were in Tampines, Toa Payoh, Simei, Clementi, Kovan City, Bukit Merah, Kampong Glam, Chinatown, Serangoon North, Rivervale Walk and Tanglin Halt.






NEA to take another trade fair operator to court
By Tham Yuen-C, The Sunday Times, 30 Nov 2014

The National Environment Agency (NEA) is taking the operator of an unlicensed trade fair to court, a day after the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) was found guilty of holding a Chinese New Year event without a permit.

Colorzon Events and Design had gone ahead to organise a fair at Kovan City, which started last Monday, without applying for the required permit, an NEA spokesman told The Sunday Times.

The events company had also ignored warnings given last Tuesday and Wednesday for it to stop the fair that has gone on in the Aljunied GRC location.

Since it failed to do so, the NEA "will be proceeding with enforcement action against the operator for the offence of operating a fair without permit from the Director-General of Public Health", the spokesman added.

The operator will also have to attend court "in due course", he said.

Colorzon could not be reached for comment by press time.

Under the Environmental Public Health Act, all operators of trade fairs must get a permit from the NEA, to ensure they can meet concerns over issues like food hygiene, safety and noise control.

If found guilty, Colorzon could be fined up to $10,000, under new laws that kicked in on April 1.

The maximum fine - previously $1,000 - was raised following recent amendments to the law to stiffen penalties for various offences.

On Friday, the Workers' Party-run AHPETC was found guilty of organising a Chinese New Year fair without a permit.

The fair took place from Jan 9 to 30 at Hougang Central, before the tougher penalties took effect.

Sentencing has been set for Dec 24.

The NEA said that since 2011, it has taken action against the operators of 16 unlicensed fairs held in Tampines, Toa Payoh, Simei, Clementi, Kovan City, Bukit Merah, Kampong Glam, Chinatown, Serangoon North, Rivervale Walk and Tanglin Halt.



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