Peter Low & Sylvia Lim [Photo: Straits Times]

Why was “town councils” removed from application form?: WP lawyer

By Andrew Loh

The court battle between the Workers’ Party’s Aljunied Hougang Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) and the National Environment Agency (NEA) got under way on Tuesday.

[You can read The Online Citizen’s report here: "AHPETC questions NEA on need for "mini-fairs” permit".]

One of the questions raised during Tuesday’s hearing was why the WP Town Council needed to seek a “letter of support” from the Citizens Consultative Committee (CCC)’s in applying for a permit to hold a trade fair.

In the application form to hold a fair, it says:

Letter of Support from the Citizens’ Constituency Committee (CCC)

If the fair is organised by a non-grassroots organisation such as charitable, civic, educational, religious or social institution and held on public land, the organiser must obtain a Letter of Support from the Chairman of the CCC of the respective constituency in which the fair is to be held.

Incidentally, it seems that the form has wrongly described the “CCC” as the “Citizens’ Constituency Committee”.

CCC, in fact, stands for “Citizens’ Consultative Committee”.

Victor Lye
Victor Lye

In any case, the CCC in question in this particular case was the Bedok Reservoir-Punggol CCC.

Mr Peter Low, lawyer representing the WP, told the court that this CCC was chaired by a People’s Action Party (PAP) grassroots leader, Victor Lye.

Mr Lye is also the PAP branch chairman in the area.

Mr Low had wanted to know from Mr Tai Ji Choong, the NEA director of environmental health who was in the stand on Tuesday, to explain why it was necessary to get the CCC’s approval as a condition for the permit.

The judge, however, ruled that “the issue surrounding the conditions for a permit should not be argued in the present trial but at a judicial review”, according to news reports.

However, he also reserved judgement on whether the NEA should explain why TCs in general require a “letter of support” from the CCCs when applying for a permit to hold trade fairs.

What is curious, which Mr Low also raised in court, was why the term “town councils” was removed from being mentioned in the application form among those organisations which are allowed to hold trade fairs.

Mr Low said that in the current application form, it says:

“Only grassroots organisations and charitable, civic, educational, religious or social institutions are allowed to hold fairs.”

However, in a July 2008 version of the trade fair application form, it stated “town councils” as one of the entities allowed to hold trade fairs.

Mr Low showed the court the 2008 form which said [empha[emphasis added]

“…only grassroots organisations, town councils and charitable, civic, educational, religious or social institutions are allowed to hold fairs”.

But the forms the AHPETC received last December did not have the words “town councils”.

Mr Low wanted to know when the decision to remove or omit the term “town councils” was made.

Lawyer for the NEA, Mr Isaac Tan, objected to Mr Low’s question and said it was “irrelevant” as the issue before the court is whether the event needed a permit.

Based on the materials Mr Low produced in court, it would seem that because town councils are no longer allowed to hold trade fairs, they would need the support of the CCCs if they wish to do so.

But when were town councils removed from the list of entities which are authorised to hold trade fairs, and why?