Permit dispute up to higher authority: Lim

In Court: Ms Lim and two town council employees took the stand yesterday, concluding 21/2 days of hearings.

The trial to decide if the Workers' Party town council flouted the law in holding an unlicensed Chinese New Year (CNY) event concluded yesterday, after 21/2 days of hearings.

The defence closed its case after calling party chairman Sylvia Lim and two employees of the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) to the stand.

The two employees testified on procedural matters, such as the authenticity of documents central to the trial.

During his cross-examination of Ms Lim earlier yesterday, National Environment Agency (NEA) prosecutor Isaac Tan challenged her reasons for going ahead with the event in Hougang Central in January even though it did not have a permit.

Mr Tan pointed out that NEA had, from the outset, said the event needed a permit under Section 35 of the Environmental Public Health Act.

AHPETC, despite believing otherwise, did not once inform NEA of its position that the event was a "mini-fair" or a "community event" that would not require a permit, he added.

AHPETC has used the terms to describe the event during the trial, arguing that it was not a "temporary fair" or a "trade fair" as classified under the Act.

Mr Tan said: "If the town council truly believes that it did not require a permit, it would have put that unequivocally (to NEA)."

Ms Lim, an MP for Aljunied GRC and chairman of the town council, disagreed. She said it was for a "higher authority", and not the town council, to determine this.

Hence, AHPETC avoided bringing up legal issues in its correspondence with NEA at the time.

She added that the nature of the event was already made clear in its name: Lunar New Year Flora And Community Fair 2014. Fellow MP Low Thia Khiang also wrote a letter to NEA saying the event would bring "a sense of holiday cheer to the community", she added.

Mr Tan also argued that the town council's submission of the forms indicated it accepted NEA's advice that a permit was required.

This, even as it replaced the words "trade fair" with "event", and submitted an accompanying letter saying the form "does not represent our agreement (with NEA) as to the nature of the event".

Ms Lim disagreed. She said the applications were submitted only at NEA's insistence, and to "avoid having any problems during the event".

The town council was "trying to take a practical way to solve the impasse" by providing some of the accompanying documents requested by NEA, such as approval from the Singapore Civil Defence Force, said Ms Lim.

But it did not submit a complete application because it deemed the requirements unreasonable.

"If the NEA had given us a form suitable for our purpose, we would have submitted it in full," she said. "(We were) hamstrung because some of the approvals that NEA wanted us to furnish would be inappropriate."

On Wednesday, she had said that among the conditions for permits to be granted was a letter of approval from the citizens' consultative committee (CCC) of the area.

In this case, it was under the ambit of Bedok Reservoir-Punggol CCC, which is chaired by a People's Action Party grassroots leader.

"We have certain duties to discharge in the management of a common area which is within our jurisdiction," she argued.

She added that the event ran its full course from Jan 9 to Jan 30, despite NEA's orders to stop operations, because "we came to the conclusion that these matters may need to be resolved before the court".

District Judge Victor Yeo is expected to give his decision by the end of next month.

If found guilty, the town council can be fined up to $1,000. For subsequent convictions, the maximum punishment is a fine not exceeding $4,000.

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