08 December 2014

Did National Environment Agency Exceed Scope Of Its Powers?

National Environment Agency ("NEA") took Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol-East Town Council ("AHPETC") to court for organising a fair earlier this year without first obtaining a permit from NEA.

The court found AHPETC guilty of contravening section 35 of the Environmental Public Health Act (Cap. 95) ("EPH Act"), which states:

"No person shall 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 Public Health]."

Prerequisites for a Permit
NEA reportedly required AHPETC to submit the following documents in connection with its application for a permit:

1. Approval from Fire Safety and Shelter Department, Singapore Civil Defence Force.

2. Approval from Energy Market Authority for the use of a generator, if any.

3. Approval from Road Management Department, Land Transport Authority.

4. Approval from Development and Building Control Division, Land Transport Authority, if the site is within 40 metres of an MRT station or a rail structure.

5. Approval from National Parks Board for the use of grass verge or roadside tables, if any.

6. Consensus from neighbourhood shopkeepers.

7. Letter of support from the relevant Citizens' Consultative Committee.

8. Copy of agreement(s) for the collection and disposal of waste generated by the fair at approved disposal sites.

Of these eight items, only item no. 8 concerns environmental public health, in my opinion.

Approvals by Other Authorities
It is one thing for NEA to inform or remind organisers of fairs to obtain the approval of all other relevant authorities; it is another thing for NEA to require that organisers of fairs submit such approvals to it before it will issue a permit.

It is not clear which legislation or subsidiary legislation NEA relies on to give itself the authority to demand or ensure that all such approvals have been obtained.

If anyone wishes to organise a fair in a town (as defined in the Town Councils Act), the ultimate approving body for the fair is the town council, and the town council can demand that the organiser of the fair show that it has obtained all the requisite approvals.

The Town Councils Act (Cap. 329A) says:

"An Act to provide for the incorporation of Town Councils to control, manage, maintain and improve the common property of housing estates of the Housing and Development Board, their constitution, functions and for matters incidental thereto.

Functions of Town Council
18.—(1) The functions of a Town Council are —
(a) to control, manage, maintain and improve the common property of the residential and commercial property in the housing estates of the Board within the Town and to keep them in a state of good and serviceable repair and in a proper and clean condition …"
If the town council itself is the organiser of the fair, it has to ensure that it has obtained all the requisite approvals.

Each approving body (e.g., NEA, Land Transport Authority etc.) has the right to approve or reject any application but only in respect of such aspect(s) that are within its lawful jurisdiction.

When deciding whether or not to issue a permit for a fair, the Director-General of Public Health may exercise only the powers pursuant to the Environmental Public Health Act, which is:

"An Act to consolidate the law relating to environmental public health and to provide for matters connected therewith."[1]

Citizens' Consultative Committee's Support
The Citizens' Consultative Committees ("CCCs") see themselves as a bridge between the people and the Government, and plan and lead major grassroots activities within the constituency, oversee local assistance programmes, and organise major fund-raising projects and national campaigns[2].

CCCs are grassroot organisations and are part of the People's Association. The People's Association is governed by the People's Association Act:

"An Act to incorporate the People’s Association for promoting community recreation in Singapore and for matters incidental thereto.

Objects of Association

8. The objects of the [People's] Association are —

(a) the organisation and the promotion of group participation in social, cultural, educational and athletic activities for the people of Singapore in order that they may realise that they belong to a multiracial community, the interests of which transcend sectional loyalties;

(b) the establishment of such institutions as may be necessary for the purpose of leadership training in order to instil in leaders a sense of national identity and a spirit of dedicated service to a multiracial community;

(c) the fostering of community bonding and strengthening of social cohesion amongst the people of Singapore;

(d) the performance of such other functions as may be conferred upon the Association by any written law; and

(e) the carrying out of such activities as appear to the Board to be advantageous towards, or necessary or convenient for, the furtherance of the objects of the Association as set out in paragraphs (a) to (d)."
It seems that the People's Association has departed from its purpose which, according to the preamble in the People's Association Act, is "promoting community recreation … and … matters incidental thereto".

Putting this aside for the moment, nothing in the People's Association Act confers on the People's Association or the CCC the power to approve or support, or to withhold its approval or support, for trade fairs (or even other events) organised by other parties.

Furthermore, it is nonsensical to even suggest that a town council, which pursuant to the Town Councils Act automatically includes (and must include) the elected Members of Parliament for the electoral division(s) comprised in the town, to seek the support of a CCC in that town to organise any activity or event in the town where such activity or events falls within the scope of the Town Councils Act.

Not only is it incomprehensible why the CCC's support for AHPETC's fair was a prerequisite for NEA's issuing a permit under the EPH Act, but also there appears to be no basis for it in the EPH Act.

Consensus from Neighbourhood Shopkeepers
It is not clear why the consensus from neighbourhood shopkeepers is required.

If NEA's concern is potential competition from the stallholders, there will almost always be competition because the variety of goods sold by HDB neighbourhood shops and stallholders in HDB neighbourhood fairs are not so dissimilar that there will not be any overlap.

Even among HDB neighbourhood shops and in HDB food centres, it is not uncommon to see duplication of shops or stalls, in some cases many times over.

Furthermore, the Government's mantra is competition.

If the neighbourhood shopkeepers don't want competition from the stallholders, the party to complain to and adjudicate on the matter is the town council, if the fair is held on premises over which the town council has jurisdiction.

In any case, irrespective of whether or not neighbourhood shopkeepers give their consent, what in the EPH Act empowers NEA to require the organisers of any fair to obtain their consensus?

I could not find any provision in the EPH Act that, in connection with NEA's issuing a permit for a fair organised by AHPETC in a place within AHPETC's jurisdiction, empowers NEA to require AHPETC to satisfy NEA that it has procured any approval, support or consensus from any person other than where it pertains to environmental public health within the meaning of the EPH Act.

(Not finding something is much more difficult than finding something. It is possible that I might have missed the relevant enabling provision or interpreted the relevant enabling provision in ways different from how some other people might interpret it.)


1. Environmental Public Health Act, updated 1 April 2014.

2. PEOPLE'S ASSOCIATION website dated 19 Jul 2013.

1 comment:

  1. Essentially why is a govt ministry interfering with the affairs of a TOWN Council? This is practically unheard of where a PAP Town Council is concerned.

    So why are they being such a ASSHOLE? They must have forgotten they got FUCKED at Toa Payoh rooftop.