Lantau school denies HK$1 land abuse claim
An international school on Lantau has accused the Ombudsman of making a groundless allegation that it cheated on its previous non-profit-making status to take advantage of a HK$1 plot of state land.
Lantau International School also criticised the watchdog - which did not disclose the name or location of the school it was referring to - for not checking the allegation with it before making it public.
The school responded hot on the heels of the Lands Department's rejection the day before of the watchdog's advice to check whether HK$1 plots were being used improperly.
'The school does not rent directly any government land,' Lantau International said yesterday. 'Its parent company rents from owners or tenants of the buildings where it registered classes with [the Education Bureau].'
On Thursday, the Ombudsman issued an investigation report in which it mentioned a school that claimed to be non-profit in 1995 and secured a HK$1-a-month land lease, but switched to a profit-making status in 1999 when it took on a new name. The school did not pay the market rent of HK$400,000 a year until 2010, the report said.
The Lands Department grants special short-term leases for HK$1 a month for government-endorsed, non-profit purposes. The Ombudsman said the department had 'failed to play its role as a gatekeeper' in making regular checks to ensure those non-profit purposes had not diverged.
Several newspaper reports named the school yesterday as Lantau International School and said the disputed land was one of its three campuses - its Tong Fuk centre in South Lantau, which serves Primary One to Three pupils. The other two campuses are in Mui Wo and Pui O.
The profit-making school described the Ombudsman's comments as baseless. It said the watchdog did not contact its administration for an explanation before going public with its claims. It said it submitted its accounts every year to the Inland Revenue Department.
The international primary school, founded in 1993, serves 260 pupils and follows a British curriculum. Annual tuition fees for the 2012/13 academic year are HK$58,400.
Education sector lawmaker Cheung Man-kwong said: 'If the school has indeed been paying the market price the whole time, then the [Tong Fuk] building tenant has been cheating the school and the government. Either the school or the tenant needs to come clean.
'But ultimately, the responsibility lies with the Education Bureau. How is it possible that they did not check a school that charges HK$58,400 per pupil and operates on government land?'