NEA’s trade fair trial against AHPETC commences

Sylvia Lim leaving  the Subordinate Courts after the hearing regarding the NEA-AHPETC case on 18/1/2014.

The government’s trial against the Workers’ Party-controlled Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) for organising and running what it deems to be an unlicensed trade fair in its Hougang constituency began on Tuesday.
The case centres on what prosecutors for the National Environment Agency (NEA) say is the AHPETC’s failure to obtain a permit from them for holding the Lunar New Year Flora and Community Fair at Hougang Central Hub from 9 to 30 January this year.
NEA prosecutors opened the trial with a reading of the agreed-upon statement of facts between the two parties, as well as their opening statement, where they said they saw the material facts of the case as being “uncomplicated and largely undisputed”.
They said they merely needed to prove first that the community fair was a “temporary fair” as defined in Section 35 of the Environmental Public Health Act, and second, that the AHPETC had failed to obtain the necessary permit to do so, because it had failed to complete the application form that was given to them.
“It is unclear what exactly the Town Council intends to rely on in its defence… little else has been said about why the Town Council is not guilty as charged,” said prosecutor Isaac Tan.
First on the witness stand on Tuesday was prosecution witness Tai Ji Choong, director of the Environmental Health Department at NEA.
Tai, who has been with the agency since it became a statutory board, explained that the NEA could not process the AHPETC’s application for the fair permit because the requisite approvals from the relevant authorities and stakeholders were not provided for in the documents they submitted.
Defence counsel Peter Low, acting for the AHPETC, asked Tai in cross-examination about the conditions it had provided for in the fair application form, but the NEA’s lawyers said his questions were irrelevant, as the case turned on whether or not AHPETC had a permit.
The NEA pointed out that the town council did have an appeal avenue to Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan with regard to issues they may have with the fair application form, but they did not take it up.
Low then said in defence that there should be no requirement for the town council to apply for a permit, which NEA’s lawyers objected to, but District Judge Victor Yeo reserved judgement on the matter.
The trial will proceed over the rest of this week and could last until next Tuesday. If found guilty, the AHPETC is liable to a maximum $1,000 fine for the regulatory offence.