Section 35 gives NEA no purview over fairs that do not involve cooked food

I refer to the 15 Oct 2014 Straits Times report “Court battle over WP town council’s CNY fair begins”.

NEA lawyers claimed that the five stalls selling festive decorations, cookies and potted plants contravened Section 35 of the Environmental Public Health Act, which states a permit is necessary for “any temporary fair, stage show or other such function or activity”.

But Section 35 falls under Part IV Food Establishments, Markets and Hawkers of the Public Health Act which covers sections 32 to 42 as follows:

32. Food establishments to be licensed
33. Licensing of hawkers operating from stalls, etc.
34. Licensing of itinerant hawkers
35. Director-General may issue temporary permits
36. Licences for private markets
37. Persons with infectious diseases not to carry on business
38. Unauthorised structures
39. Cleanliness of markets and stalls
40. Articles of food unfit for human consumption
41. Cleanliness of vehicles, equipment, etc.
41A. Penalties for offences under this Part
42. Notice to attend Court

Nearly every section of Part IV is related to food. For example:

• Sections 32, 33, 34, 36, 39 deal specifically with food establishments, hawkers and markets

• Section 37 deals with employment of persons with infectious diseases presumably because that has an effect on food safety

• Section 38 relates to stalls and food establishments

• Section 40 deals specifically with food

• Section 41 deals with vehicles used to transport food

• Sections 41A and 42 deals with penalties and court issues

So practically all the rules in Part IV has something to do with food. It is therefore not unreasonable to say that Section 35 should also be associated with food. After all, the powers of the NEA specific to Part IV Food Establishments, Markets and Hawkers should not go beyond anything related to food. It wouldn’t make sense for example that under Part IV Food Establishments, Markets and Hawkers, NEA has the power to rule over a trade fair involving computer accessories. That wouldn’t be right and it wouldn’t make sense. If there is a law empowering the NEA to rule over a trade fair involving computer accessories, that law cannot come under Part IV Food Establishments, Markets and Hawkers. Either that or Part IV has to be renamed Food Establishments, Markets, Hawkers and Computer Accessories.

Hence, Part IV Food Establishments, Markets and Hawkers should give NEA absolutely no purview over a trade fair involving non-edibles like festive decorations and potted plants. That is to say, the WP trade fair, whatever its name, doesn’t contravene Section 35 as long as the fair didn’t involve food.

So the only legitimate concern NEA may have are the cookies sold at the WP trade fair. But if the cookies were taken from a supplier who also supplies them to retailers elsewhere with approval, then clearly NEA has absolutely no reason to find fault with the WP trade fair.

Finally, nowhere in Part IV Food Establishments, Markets and Hawkers does it state that CCC approval must be sought.

Straits Times, Court battle over WP town council’s CNY fair begins, 15 Oct 2014

A TRIAL involving the Workers’ Party (WP) town council began yesterday, with the National Environment Agency (NEA) lawyers saying it was never given a permit to run a Chinese New Year fair in January.

Still, the Aljunied-Hougang- Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) went ahead with it in Hougang Central, a district court heard.

The event ran from Jan 9 to Jan 30, with five stalls, selling festive decorations, cookies and potted plants, among other things, between blocks 811 and 814.

This, the lawyers argued in their opening remarks, constituted a “temporary fair”.

As such, it contravened Section 35 of the Environmental Public Health Act, which states a permit is necessary for “any temporary fair, stage show or other such function or activity”.

But the AHPETC, whose chairman is Ms Sylvia Lim, is disputing NEA’s argument. Its lawyer Peter Low pointed out that it was a “mini-fair” or an “event”, and hence did not require a permit.

He also said he would seek clarification from the NEA on why it was necessary to get the Citizens Consultative Committee’s (CCC) approval when applying for such a permit. The CCC in question was the Bedok Reservoir-Punggol CCC, which Mr Low told the court was chaired by a People’s Action Party grassroots leader.

The case before District Judge Victor Yeo started from a letter the town council wrote to the NEA on Dec 20 last year, asking if a permit was required for the Chinese New Year (CNY) event.

The NEA said “yes” three days later, and e-mailed to the town council application forms for a “trade fair permit” and a “trade fair foodstall licence”.

On Dec 24, AHPETC replied that the forms were “unsuitable”, given that it was organising and operating the event by itself.

NEA reiterated that a permit was required and the town council submitted the forms. But it struck off the words “trade fair” and substituted them with “event”. It also stated the event would be held from Jan 10 to Jan 30 as opposed to Jan 9 when it actually began.

On Jan 9, the NEA told the town council via e-mail that the application was incomplete and could not be processed.

The AHPETC did not respond to the e-mail, nor to a subsequent warning to stop the event.

NEA prosecutor Isaac Tan did not elaborate on the missing documents in the application.

Mr Tai Ji Choong, who is NEA’s director of environmental health, told the court that a permit was required for temporary fairs so that “there would not be disamenities caused to the community”. These include noise nuisance, pest infestation and food hygiene issues.

During cross-examination, Mr Low wanted Mr Tai to explain why it was necessary to get the CCC’s approval as a condition for the permit.

The judge, however, agreed with Mr Tan’s objection that the issue surrounding the conditions for a permit should not be argued in the present trial but at a judicial review.

Mr Tan also argued that the matter of not applying for a permit was one of “strict liability”. Citing littering as an example, he said whether or not one intended to litter was immaterial.

He also said that since the AHPETC did not appeal against its rejected application, it should not use the court to find out why it was not given the permit.

Mr Low later showed the court a revised trade fair application form dated July 2008, which states “only grassroots organisations, town councils and charitable, civic, educational, religious or social institutions are allowed to hold fairs”.

But the forms the AHPETC received last December did not have the words “town councils”.

Mr Low asked when and why the change was made. Mr Tan objected, saying it was irrelevant as the issue before the court is whether the event needed a permit.

If found guilty, the town council can be fined up to $1,000 and, for subsequent convictions, a fine not exceeding $4,000 and/or a jail term of up to three months.

The trial continues today.

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