On 27 June, officers from the National Environment Agency (NEA) gave verbal warnings to members of the opposition National Solidarity Party (NSP) to stop the sale of their party newspaper, The North Star. The NSP had been doing what opposition parties have been doing for years - reaching out to residents in HDB estates and going about selling their party newspapers. This time however it seems the authorities are going by the book. The NSP members were told that what they were doing was “illegal hawking”.
After that incident, which took place in Bendemeer, the party sought clarification from the Chief Executive of the NEA. Besides wanting to know if selling its party newspaper by going about hawker centres, markets, shops and coffeeshops, was illegal, the party also asked, if it was indeed illegal, where the party could apply for the relevant permit. It also asked NEA if any political party had been issued with such a licence or permit in the past.
“An officer called me up and told me that there is only licence for individuals who are from the low income group to do mobile hawking,” NSP secretary-general, Mr Goh Meng Seng, told The Online Citizen. “Apparently there isn't any license for political party like ours to conduct our political outreach. However, our activity is deemed as ‘illegal hawking’. I told him to write to me officially to state his stand. I have not received his official letter so far.”
On Sunday 4 July, while going about the sale of its newspaper at Tampines, the NSP’s vice-president, Mr Christopher Neo, was issued with a summon for S$300 by NEA officers. The reason? “Illegal hawking”.
“Sebastian and Steve offered to be summoned as well but [the NEA officers] did not want to act on that. Sebastian also wanted them to summon each and every one of us, but they declined also,” Mr Goh explained. Mr Sebastian Teo is the party’s president while Mr Steve Chia is a former Non-constituency Member of Parliament and the party’s treasurer.
“Apparently, this is just an exercise of intimidation,” Mr Goh says. “If our activity is really "illegal hawking", they will have to either summon all of us or arrest all of us if we refuse to be summoned. They did neither of these.”
Mr Goh asks if this means that all opposition parties are legally banned from carrying out their weekly political outreach by selling their newspapers.
TOC understands that a first-time offender can be fined up to S$1,000 for illegal hawking. Repeat offenders can be fined up to S$4,000 plus jail terms.