Kuk turnaround raises questions
The row over illegal structures took a new twist after the powerful Heung Yee Kuk decided to call off a mass protest against a government crackdown. The kuk also urged villagers to register smaller fixtures in return for a temporary reprieve under a voluntary declaration system. The U-turn is a pleasant surprise amid an increasingly charged political atmosphere. It is encouraging that the villagers have dropped confrontational tactics in fighting enforcement. Interestingly, the kuk's change of heart came a day after a closed-door meeting between its chairman, Lau Wong-fat, and chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying. Details of the talks remain unknown. But speaking after the meeting, Lau hoped Leung could adopt a 'soft landing' approach in tackling tens of thousands of unauthorised structures found in village house in the New Territories. The following day, Lau announced the protest had been put on hold.
The dramatic turnaround has inevitably raised concerns whether Leung has struck a fresh deal with the rural leaders behind closed doors. Lau said the kuk appreciated what he called a 'moderate' approach adopted by development minister Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, referring to her letter promising that those who failed to comply with removal orders would not be prosecuted before the end of September. But Lam was quick to stress that she was merely clarifying some misunderstandings regarding enforcement.
Speculation is rife as to why the kuk would back down if the policy remained unchanged. We hope the rural affairs body has adopted a genuinely conciliatory approach rather than buying time for a new deal with the incoming government. As Lam pointed out, the crackdown has a strong legal basis and firm public support. Even if she moves on to another position in the next government, the community expects nothing short of strict enforcement. Hong Kong prides itself on being a place with the rule of law. The new government should not been seen as deviating from this principle.