VICTOR LYE: In the 25 Dec 2014 ST article “WP-run Town Council fined $800 over unlicensed fair”, Aljunied-Hougang-Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC) Chairman, Ms Sylvia Lim said, “we are unable to organise activities to benefit residents and businesses in the area.”
Do not be fooled by this desperate playing of the “victim card”. The record shows that AHPETC trade fairs have hurt shopkeepers due to high frequency and long duration.
Instead, Ms Lim revealed AHPETC’s true motive when she said, “The town council has also lost a source of revenue to manage its operations.”
It is very clear. AHPETC’s trade fairs are about money. It has little to do with benefiting residents and businesses in the area.
Here is the background.
After AHPETC was formed, it took over common property at Hougang Central and at Kovan where Hougang Mall and Heartland Mall are located respectively. Hougang and Kovan MRT stations there ensure good crowds. It became apparent to AHPETC that it could generate revenue by renting out common property for commercial activities.
The more frequent and the longer the duration, the more money AHPETC gets. AHPETC pockets money from the highest bidder with little risk. The trade fair organiser takes the risk because he has to sublet and rent out the stalls to cover what he paid AHPETC. The stalls often sold items similar to those of the surrounding HDB shopkeepers.
At first, Hougang HDB shopkeepers were friendly and tolerated. As the trade fairs became more frequent and longer,their businesses were affected. They became unhappy. When the shopkeepers complained, AHPETC staff called the police. The issue was reported by the press. AHPETC’s gravy train was derailed.
AHPETC does not want to be restricted from making money by renting out common property for commercial activities.
The NEA trade fair application form states that “consensus of shopkeepers” and/or “letter of support from the Citizens’ Consultative Committee (CCC)” are required, depending on where the fair is held.
The rules are meant to protect local shopkeepers against unfair competition and to balance community interests. Even trade fairs organised by grassroots organisations need approval from the authorities. There are self-imposed limits on frequency and duration with guidelines to minimise adverse effects and to benefit the community.
AHPETC questions the need for a letter of support from the CCC. This was not a show stopper for AHPETC’s earlier trade fairs. The CCC does not approve trade fairs. The National Environmental Agency (NEA) does. The CCC’s role is to assess if community interests are safeguarded. Nonetheless, the shopkeepers’ consensus appears paramount in the case of trade fair permit applications to the NEA.
In fact, AHPETC organised many trade fairs after it took office. It was not hampered at all. Truth is greed likely got the better of AHPETC. Its trade fairs became more frequent and longer in duration until the gravy train was derailed by angry shopkeepers.
How can AHPETC believe it is special and exempt from such checks and approvals?
AHPETC has cynically disregarded our laws and disrespected civil servants doing their duty. In chasing easy money, AHPETC trade fairs have hurt shopkeepers in Hougang. Based on AHPETC’s poor financial management, it appears that every two Aljunied households are paying for one other. Is there a shortfall of funds available to maintain the estate? Can Aljunied residents say the standard of cleanliness is as good as before?
In playing the “victim card”, Ms Lim has deviously failed to reveal that the CCC had given its support to the AHPETC trade fair in question. Yet AHPETC chose not to submit the application so that it could contest its case in court. Why?
AHPETC wants to challenge the checks and approvals required by law so that it can raise money freely using common property under its management.
The key questions to ask are:
Are town councils allowed to earn money by renting out common property for commercial activities?
Is AHPETC facing cash flow problems that it must raise funds, but for whom really, and for what purpose?
Thanks to Ms Lim’s revelation of AHPETC’s true motive, it is now of utmost public interest for AHPETC to disclose how much money it has generated from trade fairs held on common property, the number of trade fairs and the duration of each since it has been in charge.
This commentary was written by Victor Lye.
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