NEA forms “not suitable” for town council event: Sylvia Lim

Chairman of AHPETC, Ms Sylvia Lim and lawyer, Mr Peter Low

Chairman of Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), Sylvia Lim, was in the witness stand as the hearing on summons issued by the National Environment Agency (NEA) to the AHPETC moves into the second day.

Ms Lim testified in court on why the town council felt that the application forms which it was required to submit to hold a community event were not applicable for the lunar new year event it held in January.

District Judge Victor Yeo  ruled after a day of deliberation that the question on why and when the NEA removed the term “town council” from the 2008 revised application form for trade fairs to be irrelevant to the ruling of the case and disallow Peter Low, lawyer for the WP town council, from asking the question.

The judge ruled that it is not his power to preside over the rationale of the law and said that such questions will be disallowed after Mr Low failed to convince the judge with past judgements that it is any matter of the court to determine whether one has exercised due diligence in violation of public welfare offences such as Section 35 of the Environmental Public Health Act (EPHA).

In court on Wednesday, Ms Lim referred to the communication between AHPETC and NEA starting with the email sent by AHPETC’s Public Relation Officer, Ms Chelsea Lu to Mr Tai Ji Choong, the NEA’s director of environmental health.

letter on 20th dec
Letter from AHPETC to NEA on 20th December 2013

Referring to the email sent on 20th December last year, Ms Lim explained that the town council sent the email to NEA because of concerns on whether the event to be held by the town council required any permit from the authorities and to ask for the forms which the town council had to submit, if any.

In the cover letter accompanying AHPETC’s application submission to the NEA, the town council highlighted that the form was used at the request of the NEA and that AHPETC felt that the form does not represent the town council’s agreement.

do not represent our agreement
Paragraph in the cover letter to NEA

In reply to Mr Low’s question of why the town council feel that the form was not suitable for the event, Ms Lim replied that there are three main reasons.

It was to Ms Lim’s understanding that trade fairs are normally referred to as “pasar malam” (night market) which are organised by Citizen Consultative Committees (CCCs).

The WP town council event, however, was intended to be held by the town council and was a community event, carried out on common area managed by the town council.

Ms Lim said that under the law, the powers and duties of the town council include the management of the common area.

Ms Lim also referred to the term “town councils” missing from the application forms supplied by the NEA.

In its previous version, the term was included as part of a list of entities which were allowed to conduct fairs.

Instead, one of the conditions specified by the application form, among the documents supposed to be obtained is a “letter of support” from the chairman of the Citizen Consultative Committee (CCC).

Ms Lim pointed out that in the case of the Hougang CCC, the branch leader is from the People’s Action Party.

“Since my colleagues and I were elected to manage the town council under the Town Councils Act, we do not see how the town council should be required to get a supporting letter from the CCC for something held in the common area under our charge,” Ms Lim told the court.

"Trade Fair" replaced with "Event"
“Trade Fair” replaced with “Event”

In the application form submitted to NEA, the wordings of “Trade Fair” is struck off and replaced with the word, “Event”. Ms Lim said that she approved the replacement of the words because it was constant with what they wrote in the cover letter that they do not believe they were organising a trade fair.

She also did not agree that the town council was holding a commercial activity as stated in the letter by the Ministry of National Development sent on 14th January 2014.

Frustration by defense lawyers

Mr Low showed signs of frustration after being blocked for “no less than 10 questions” in the past two days by Isaac Tan, the NEA prosecutor, saying that it is a waste of time.

Mr Low had not been able to ask any question from Mr Tai due to Mr Tan’s objections.

This came after Mr Tan’s prompt objection to Ms Lim’s statement of why the initial letter to NEA was sent.

Ms Lim was bringing up the point that she had been told by industry players in organising events that NEA “is not interested in events, unless open food stalls are involved or small events with less than 15 stalls.”

Before she could continue, the prosecution asked if the sources cited by Ms Lim would be questioned as witnesses. If the sources will not be questioned, then what Ms Lim said would be hearsay evidence.

Ms Lim said that she has not obtained permission from the people whom she spoke to, as their businesses could be affected.

Mr Low said that if Mr Tan has any objections on the hearsay evidence, he could address that in his cross-examination of the witness and  asked for the judge to allow Ms Low to allowed to continue her statement as it would provide the background of why the initial contact was made with NEA.

The judge noted the prosector’s objection but allowed Ms Lim to continue.

Other than Ms Lim, three more witnesses from the defense will be called up, Ms Chelsea Lu , Deputy General Manager of AHPETC, Mr Yeo Soon Fei and MP for Hougang SMC, Png Eng Huat.

The prosecution will be cross examining Ms Lim today (Thursday)

Application form submitted by AHPETC to NEA

NEA v AHPETC application form