Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) has been fined $800 by the courts for holding a festive trade fair without approval from the National Environment Agency (NEA).
The penalty amount for the offense was announced on Wednesday (24 December) after the courts found the town council to be guilty of the offense on 28 November.
AHPETC, which is currently run by the Workers’ Party, was summoned by NEA under Section 35 of the Environmental Public Health Act (EPHA) for organising a Lunar New Year Fair from 10 January to 30 January this year without a valid permit from the environment agency.
District Judge Victor Yeo had earlier said in his judgement that the “mini-fair”, which consisted of stalls selling festive decorations, cookies and sweets, fruits such as pomelo, flowers and assorted potted plants, falls within the ordinary definition of a fair and the duration of the event amounted to a “temporary fair”. As such, it required a licence under Section 35 of the EPHA.
The judge added that he is convinced AHPETC’s actions was a strict liability offence, which means the prosecution does not need to prove beyond reasonable doubt that AHPETC deliberately intended to hold the fair without a permit.
The judge said the town council’s objection was related to the suitability of the application form and not the fact that a permit was required. He said the court is not an appropriate forum to examine the conditions related to the permit application form.
Throughout the course of the trial, the legal defence for AHPETC, represented by lawyer Peter Low, faced great difficulty contesting the charge by NEA, as Mr Low’s attempts to question NEA on the forms were repeatedly ruled irrelevant by the presiding judge.
From documents submitted by the defence, the only document which seems to have prevented AHPETC from obtaining the permit was the letter of approval from the Citizens’ Consultative Committee (CCC) run by a representative from the People’s Action Party.
Mr Low had also argued that the town council did not require a permit to hold events such as “mini-fairs” in the common space of the town council according to the Town Council Act.
The judge however said in his judgement earlier in November that he is not convinced of the defence’s argument that AHPETC can hold events without a permit in common areas that it manages according to Section 18 of the Town Council Act. He noted that AHPETC did not raise this up as an issue in the corresponding emails leading up to the event held in January this year.
He also noted that the town council had the option of not holding the event before it obtain the relevant permit from NEA and it is an undisputed fact that the town council held the fair despite not obtaining the permit.
On the question of footing the bill for the legal fees, AHPETC Vice Chairman Pritam Singh had earlier said in November that no town council funds were used for this case. “The MPs are contributing to the lawyers’ fees,” Mr Png Eng Huat added.
AHPETC said in a statement that while it respects the court’s decision and have paid the fine of $800 but it is not satisfied with the outcome of the case.
The town council further noted that the State Court has declined to rule on whether NEA’s requirements are valid and reasonable. It will be consulting its lawyers to study the options to pursue these matters in the High Court.