Monday, 27 October 2014

From Adverse-Opinion, Ceiling-Cleaning to Unlicensed-Fair

Update 29 Nov 2014: AHPETC found guilty of holding fair without permit
Argument by town council’s lawyers wholly misconceived and untenable, says judge

The Workers’ Party-run Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) was yesterday found guilty of holding a Chinese New Year fair earlier this year without a permit. Sentencing was adjourned to Dec 24 and the town council could be fined up to S$1,000.

Delivering his oral judgment for almost two hours, District Judge Victor Yeo threw out what he described as “somewhat convoluted and perplexing” legal arguments by the town council’s lawyers. Ruling that the event fell under the definition of a “temporary fair” — and thus was subject to a permit under Section 35 of the Environmental Public Health Act (EPHA) — the judge said the argument by AHPETC’s lawyers that the fair should be construed as a “social and communal function” and a “mini fair” was “wholly misconceived and untenable”.

The judge also noted that at no point had AHPETC informed or sought clarification from the National Environment Agency (NEA) on whether a permit was required for its event.
The judge also noted that at no point had AHPETC informed or sought clarification from the National Environment Agency (NEA) on whether a permit was required for its event.

related: Town council deliberately flouted the law: NEA

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NEA, AHPETC disagree over whether LNY fair needed a permit

NEA prosecutors argued that this constitutes what it calls a "temporary fair" and requires a permit under Section 35 of the Environmental Public Health Act. NEA said the town council did not do this.

The court heard that six stall holders involved in the fair were issued notices of offences for illegal hawking - which they later compounded. A similar offer to compound the offence was also made to the town council, but it decided not to do so.

Lawyer Mr Peter Low - who is acting for the town council - said the event was not a "temporary fair" but a "mini-fair". He said that no permit was actually needed, as this was a social and communal function. The town council's chairman, Ms Sylvia Lim, was also in court on Tuesday.

CNY fair did not need permit: Town council
The Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) did not need a permit to organise a Chinese New Year fair in January, its defence lawyer argued yesterday

Mr Peter Low was speaking on the first day of a trial in which the town council is fighting a summons for holding an alleged illegal trade fair at the Hougang Central Hub.

The town council is charged with committing the offence under Section 35 of the Environmental Public Health Act (EPHA).

It is alleged to have organised the fair without a permit issued by the National Environment Agency.

Hougang fair went ahead as AHPETC did not agree with NEA's actions: Sylvia Lim

The trial on whether the Workers' Party town council held an illegal event in January this year wrapped up on Thursday (Oct 16), with Workers' Party Member of Parliament Sylvia Lim taking the stand again for cross-examination by the National Environment Agency's (NEA) lawyer.

The Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) is accused of organising a Lunar New Year fair without a permit. It was then issued a summons by the NEA. The event, from Jan 9 to Jan 30, comprised five stalls which sold items such as festive decorations, cookies and potted plants.

The two-and-a-half day trial saw Ms Lim, the town council's chairman, explaining why she felt NEA's "trade fair" application form was not suitable for this fair. The town council said what it had organised was a "community event" or "mini-fair" on its common areas.

CCC’s support letter critical for AHPETC’s permit application?
Why then should CCCs be included in the approval process for a permit, in particular for an event conducted in an area outside of its purview? For a start, did NEA ask AHPETC to submit the correct application forms?

The hearing on summons issued by the National Environment Agency (NEA) to Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) has ended last week with the ruling of the hearing scheduled to be out by end of November.

While the final decision is now with the courts, what is of greater concern to the public, other town councils and those wishing to hold similar events is the nature of the charge. Specifically, how did AHPETC fail NEA’s criteria for a permit?

While an understanding of the background of the case was consistently contested by the prosecution and subsequently ruled as “irrelevant” by the judge, knowledge for the public would prevent future such run-ins with NEA.

related: Of $1000 fines and incomplete forms

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The WP-NEA affair over a fair

Remember all that fuss about a Chinese New Year fair in Hougang? How the temporary stallholders got hauled up for illegal hawking? And they thought the t Workers’ Party town council had got all the permits ecetera? Well, they compounded their fines but the town council refused to. See you in court, WP told the National Environment Agency.

I had wondered why the WP didn’t just compound the offence and get on with the business of running the town council. From reading the reports over the past couple of days, I can only surmise that it wanted to make a point about the jurisdiction of a town council and the role of the Citizens Consultative Committee (read: pro-PAP grassroots group). Not that WP has a hope in getting their points across when the issue is so cut-and-dried: You needed a permit, you didn’t get it, you broke the law.

It wasn’t for want of trying though. The WP counsel wanted to look at whether the requirements for a permit for a temporary set-up were even valid or necessary, especially since the set-up is in an area under the town council’s charge. Why then, for example, the need to also get a supporting letter from the CCC which, by the way, approves the setting up of pasar malams etc.

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Here’s why NEA is already a loser even if it wins

It was a fairly straight forward case that could be summed up like this:
  • Aljunied Hougang Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) did not get a permit by the NEA to run their trade show (ST: Worker’s Party town council never granted permit to run CNY fair, court told)
  • AHPETC goes ahead and organises the trade fair anyway (CNA: Hougang fair went ahead as AHPETC did not agree with NEA’s actions: Sylvia Lim)
  • AHPETC gets charged by NEA for running a trade fair without a permit under Section 35 of the Environmental Public Health Act
AHPETC had a choice – to pay a small composition, or to take trial. They chose trial.

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If you follow what has been happening in Aljunied since the General Election in 2011, you will see that these things are not coincidences.

From the leasing of 26 plots of land in Aljunied and the leasing of 6 plots of land in Hougang to the People's Association almost immediately after the GE, to the AIM saga, to the hawker centre dirty ceilings, to now this (and more in between), you see a pattern. And a lot of it involve the grassroots organisations.

It really is a shame that the GROs and the volunteers in them have become caught in the politics of it all. There are so many well-meaning, sincere and very hardworking volunteers in the GROs who do not deserve to be put in such positions.

Why WP is right to seek court’s decision

The trial of the Workers’ Party Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) has ended after just two days. Five days had originally been set aside for it.

While the court takes its time to issue its judgment, expected in the latter part of November, it is good to recap why the WP had declined the offer of a composition fine by the National Environment Agency (NEA) for allegedly flouting Section 35 of the Environmental Public Health Act.

There are apparently two reasons for this:
  • One, the WP town council does not feel that it had done anything wrong in holding the fair.
  • Two, the WP felt that the NEA’s procedures were in conflict with the town council’s statutory responsibilities as laid out under the Town Councils Act.
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WORKERS' Party (WP) chairman Sylvia Lim yesterday set out in court why her town council had gone ahead with a Chinese New Year event in Hougang Central, even though it did not have a permit for it

She also said the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) had been above board in the matter - it had taken the first step in approaching the National Environment Agency (NEA) on Dec 20 last year, to ask whether a permit was needed for the event. It did so because of "some confusion on the ground" about the NEA's policies, said Ms Lim, who chairs the town council.

She said she had understood from "persons in the industry" - whom she did not name - that NEA was "not interested to look into events where there was no open food (food cooked on-site) sold and events of a small scale (of) 15 stalls or less".

The event, which ran from Jan 9 to Jan 30, was held in a 560 sq m space between Blocks 811 and 814. It had five stalls selling festive decorations, cookies, flowers, assorted fruit and potted plants.

Sylvia: I don’t see why TC needs approval from CCC

Ms Lim gave three reasons why the “Trade Fair” application was not suitable for the town council’s Lunar New Year Fair.
  • Firstly, she took issue with the definition of the term “Trade Fair”, taking it to mean “pasar malam” or night market. She said such trade fairs were typically managed by the Citizens’ Consultative Committee (CCC), whereas the Lunar New Year Fair was to be held at a common area managed by the town council.
  • Secondly, Ms Lim said the application information stated that only grassroots organisations, and charitable, civic, educational, religious or social institutions are allowed to hold fairs.
  • Lastly, she questioned why the application form needed a letter of support from the CCC as events held at common areas come under the town council’s charge under the Town Council Act.

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Sylvia Lim was on the stand again today for a cross examination in the case of the ‘unlicensed’ fair held in the WP ward in January this year

Ms Lim explained that NEA’s application forms for a permit for a trade fair were not suitable as the fair that had actually occurred was a community event or mini fair that only involved 5 stalls.

The event ran from January 9 to 30 and saw the stalls selling lunar new year festive decorations, cookies and potted plants.

NEA accused the town council of having held an unlicensed fair and summoned them but the WP town council is disputing the summon saying that theirs was not a fair that needed a license.

AHPETC questions NEA on need for “mini-fairs” permit

The first day of court on the summons issued by the National Environment Agency (NEA) to the Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) started on Tuesday, 14 October, which saw questions on the strict liability of AHPETC in conducting a trade fair, and if such a permit was necessary to begin with.

The town council run by the Workers’ Party is accused of organising a Lunar New Year Fair on January this year without a valid permit from NEA. The fair was held from 10 January to 30 January at Aljunied GRC.

A total of six stall holders involved in the fair were issued notices of offences for illegal hawking, which was later compounded. The town council was given the same offer to have the offence compounded, but decided to claim trial. If found guilty, AHPETC can be fined up to $1,000.

NEA’s trade fair trial against AHPETC
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.

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

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Aljunied town council's performance 'of grave public concern': MND
Source: Ministry of National Development

The Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) has been given the lowest rating on areas of corporate governance and service and conservancy charge (S&CC) arrears management, according to the annual Town Council Management Report released by the Ministry of National Development today (Nov 4).

The report assesses town councils on five areas—estate cleanliness, estate maintenance, lift performance, S&CC arrears management and corporate governance—using a green, amber, red banding system, over financial year (FY) 2013, from April 2013 to March 2014.

The Workers Party-run town council was the only one to receive a red banding in any area. This is the third consecutive year AHPETC was banded red for S&CC arrears management, and the second time for corporate governance.

related: Aljunied town council’s ‘persistent poor performance’ of ‘grave public concern’: MND

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First it was AIM. Then came the hawker centre cleaning issue in which PAP grassroots members played a key role, aided by NEA under an incompetent Vivian Balakrishnan.

This was followed by the issue of trade fairs where PAP grassroots advisor Victor Lye and his gang tried to stir controversy.

Now we have revelation of the former Managing Agent under PAP withholding information to WP to prevent it from closing its books.

More than 10 years of omissions in financial statements submissions by PA

The People’s Association (PA) has had the ratings of “adverse opinion” given to its annual audits by its auditors for the years 2008 to 2011, reported website TRE Emeritus.
Adverse opinion - A professional opinion made by an auditor indicating that a company’s financial statements are misrepresented, misstated, and do not accurately reflect its financial performance and health. Adverse opinions are usually given after an auditor’s report, which can be internal or independent of the company
However, The Online Citizen has viewed the annual reports of the People’s Association (PA), from the years of 2001 to 2010. In all these years, the PA’s auditors made some observations and noted that the financial statements of related organizations of the PA had omitted providing financial statements to the auditors. As such, the financial statements of the PA did not include the statements of its related organizations, such as community clubs and community centres.

Low Thia Khiang’s question in 2008 on PA’s “adverse” accounts rating
PA clarifies on “adverse opinion” in financial statements since 2008
Town councils and the State – same old repertoire, or a new direction?
Secretary-General of Workers’ Party “Welcomes” the Audit
AGC must act fairly to address Straits Times’ Contempt of Court

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Town Councils Graded On Corporate Governance
From Desmond Lawrence Sylvia to AHPETC
Social Media Takes On Town Council
Town Council Grants And Surplus Issues
From Adverse-Opinion, Ceiling-Cleaning to Unlicensed-Fair