Just when you think things couldn’t get any sillier

First, they arrest Tak Boleh Tahan protesters for protesting outside Parliament House due to “security” reasons when just days before a “dangerous” terrorist escaped from right under their noses.

And when you think that things couldn’t get any sillier, they did. This time the National Environment Agency (NEA), the tegu with a fancy name, has written to Ms Chee Siok Chin chiding her for illegal hawking.

While its American counterpart lives up to its name by looking into issues like whether to allow drilling for oil in the pristine Alaskan wilderness, our NEA sends letters to opposition members to warn them that selling food or goods in public places without permission from the Director-General contravenes the Public Health Act (see letter below).

To be fair, however, the warning was not the NEA’s idea. It was our nation’s finest who were the first to spot Ms Chee selling The Power of Courage, a book written by Dr Chee Soon Juan, at Queens Street. They then called her up for questioning and subsequently referred the matter to the Attorney-General’s Chambers headed by none other than former Appellate Court Judge Mr Chao Hick Ting.

It was the AG’s Chambers, as the NEA (curiously) took pains to point out, that directed it to send the letter to Ms Chee – a full one year later.

Are these civil servants for real?

How much of taxpayers’ money was expended in the entire exercise – the police observation team, the “investigations”, the involvement of the AG’s Chambers, and finally, the NEA? And all this for what? Apparently because Ms Chee had jeopardised public health by selling books.

If it’s any help, Ms Chee assured everyone that she washed her hands before the sales.

Opposition parties have been illegally hawking party newspapers for decades. Mr J B Jeyaretnam has been selling his books while standing outside Centrepoint and Raffles City. Dr Chee has been doing the same for more than a decade. Why pick on Ms Chee?

Was it because she was female? Or was it because of the venue? Or maybe it was because of the signboards? No, no and no. Ms Chee had sold the book in the vicinity with signboards before and nothing had happened.

The only difference, as Ms Chee pointed out in her reply to the NEA (also below), is that on this occasion the signboard showed a photograph of Mr Lee Hsien Loong with his salary prominently displayed (photo on right).

This reminds one of theTak Boleh Tahan protest where the police were extra anxious to seize the placards carrying pictures of the Lees.

Our law enforcement officers were just shielding their behinds in case word got up to the PM, or worse his father, that a sign of the him showing his salary was shown in public.

In truth this matter has nothing to do with the law but everything to do with how public funds are abused to protect the reputations of the rulers.

NEA’s letter to Ms Chee Siok Chin:

18 March 2008

Dear Madam,

RE: Illegal Hawking of books titled “Power of Courage” at Blk 270 Queen Street

I wish to inform you that on 2 April 2007 at about 2pm, the Police had observed you have engaged in the sale of books titled “Power of Courage” on a makeshift stall at the above-mentioned site.

It is noted that under section 33 of the Environmental Public Health Act, Cap 95 which reads as follows:

“No person shall – (a) hawk, sell or expose for sale any food or goods of any kind; or (b) set up or use any stall, table, showboard, vehicle or receptacle for the purpose of hawking, selling or exposing for sale any food or goods of any kind, in any street or part therefore or in any premises or public place without first obtaining a licence from the Director-General.”

In view of the above circumstances and as directed by the Attorney General’s Chambers, you are hereby warned for the commission of the illegal hawking offence during the above-mentioned date and time and at the above-mentioned place.

Yours faithfully,
A Vijayan
for HEAD
Northeast Regional Office
Environmental Health Department
National Environment Agency

Ms Chee’s reply:

4 April 2008

Dear sir,

I refer to your letter dated 18 March 2008 with regard to “illegal hawking of books titled – Power of Courage at Blk 270 Queen Street”.

You had stated in that letter that the police had observed that I was selling the book Power of Courage on 2 April 2007. That is true.

But I would also like inform you that the police have observed my selling similar publications on numerous other occasions. Many of them have even occurred at the very vicinity mentioned above. In fact, the police have filmed me selling such publications at Orchard Road, Whampoa Market, Woodlands MRT, Chong Pang Centre, Tampines MRT, Raffles Place and several other places.

Yet, I had never been investigated by the police for selling these material until 2 April 2007. Is it a coincidence that the NEA had decided to issue me a warning for “illegal hawking” for the same incident?

The police are investigating into my “providing Public Entertainment without a valid permit” in this matter. However, the officers who arrived on the scene were certainly more concerned about my placard that had the Prime Minister’s picture on it with information about his salary than about my hawking of the books. They asked questions about the placard but never once asked about my activity there nor did they try to stop me.

Thus, my first question to you is, why have you chosen to warn me on this occasion when you have clearly ignored the other numerous times when I have sold similar material?

Secondly, is it a coincidence that the NEA has decided to issue me this warning letter for the very occasion that the police are concerned about my displaying a picture of the Prime Minister and the salary that he gets?

Thirdly, why did it take your agency almost a year to send me this warning letter?

Fourthly, your letter was dated 18 March 2008. However the postmark dated on the envelope is 31 March 2008, almost two weeks after you had written the letter. Why did it take you two weeks before sending the letter?

Either your organisation has been negligent in performing its duties or this warning to me is issued out of political motivation.

If it is the former, then you should take the necessary measures to keep such negligence in check. If it is the latter, then I would like to remind you that you are a public servant, not a guardsman for the ruling party.

I hope to have a response from you soon.

Chee Siok Chin (Ms)
Singapore Democratic Party