NEA takes Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council to court over trade fair

A residential area in Hougang in Singapore.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) is taking the opposition-run Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) to court because the council did not obtain a licence to run a trade fair earlier this month.
Under Section 35 of Singapore’s Environmental Public Health Act, no person is allowed to "promote, organise or stage any temporary fair, stage show or other such function or activity without first obtaining a permit from the Director-General” of the NEA.
This means that before any person or group can organise a fair anywhere in Singapore, they are required to first apply for a licence to do so. This licensing requirement is necessary in the interest of protecting “the welfare of residents, secur(ing) public hygiene and reduc(ing) disamenities in public areas that do not have the infrastructure for prolonged commercial activities”, said the NEA.
The agency says it has taken operators to court for violating this rule on 15 separate occasions over the past three years, with 11 being fined with amounts of up to $800.
Similarly, the NEA spokesperson said AHPETC had been operating an unlicensed trade fair at Hougang Central Hub for commercial purposes since 9 January, “despite repeated formal reminders” from the agency.
When officers visited the area for checks, they found four stallholders operating and served each of them notices to attend court for hawking without a licence, under Section 33 of the same Act.
These previous fairs, said an NEA spokesperson, were located at Tampines, Toa Payoh, Simei, Clementi, Kovan City, Bukit Merah, Kampong Glam, Chinatown and Tanglin Halt. He also pointed out that there are currently 28 approved fairs in operation in Singapore, with three of them located in the Aljunied and Hougang area.
The Ministry of National Development also said town councils are not allowed to engage in commercial activities, including the organisation and operation of fairs, “as these are not related to their statutory function of management and maintenance of common property”.
According to the NEA, MND informed AHPETC of this on 14 January. Checks by Yahoo Singapore in the Town Councils Act do not show such a clause or section. Yahoo Singapore understands that this rule is a policy stance of the ministry’s.
Responding to NEA’s allegations on Thursday afternoon, AHPETC said it had "initiated communications” with the agency since 20 December last year, explaining the nature of the community fair and the benefit to its residents from it. It also clarified that the fair started on 10 January this year.
The town council also identified the four stallholders as “residents and their family members assisting” at the fair, stating that the court summons and notices of fines were issued over the past three days, since Tuesday.
“As the case against the TC is already fixed for court mention on 18 February 2014,  it would not be appropriate to  comment further on the matter at this time,” the statement said. “The TC will present its case in court."