End small-house policy, says Lam
Olga Wong and Joyce Ng
The candidate favoured to become the next chief secretary is calling for an end to what some see as the infinite demand from rural indigenous villagers for homes under the small-house policy.
In an interview with the South China Morning Post in which she outlined the challenges the next government must tackle, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor also hinted at 'a big social experiment' to overhaul the welfare system.
'Not long after my appointment, I talked to the Heung Yee Kuk and asked if they could draw a line,' she said, as she reviewed her term as the development minister since 2007.
'If life is unchanged for 50 years until 2047, as set out under the Basic Law, and only 18-year-old [or older] indigenous male villagers are eligible for a small house, how about ending it in 2029? I have asked them and offered different options. But they just didn't come back,' she said.
Under her plan, the last generation to enjoy what the villagers regard as their right would be those born in 2029 and who would become 18 in 2047. The small-house policy gives male indigenous villagers in the New Territories the right to build a house close to their ancestral homes. It has drawn criticism because in some cases it is being abused for profit.
Lam said she now sees an opportunity to propose an end to the policy in the next five years. However, she admitted her relationship with some rural representatives had turned sour as a result of stepped-up actions on clearing illegal structures in village houses since April.
'They were agitated about my enforcement [on illegal structures],' she said. 'Now that they realise the law has to be enforced, they would probably think about what to do with the remaining village zones that cannot accommodate all their [housing] demands. I do think the next administration should make a start.'
One of the challenges, Lam said, is to convince the public that the government may need to give something to villagers in return when the policy is ended. This could include providing more infrastructure to the villages and speeding up the application process with more efficient use of land.
On welfare, Lam, who was director of social welfare between 2000 and 2003, said she had in mind a 'very big social experiment' to tackle poverty and narrow the wealth gap. One idea was to reform the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance scheme, calling it 'a whole new paradigm shift to deal with poverty'.
'I have always felt that the CSSA is not the best scheme. If it is a good scheme, why are there so many 'three-nothings' and 'four-nothings' in Hong Kong,' she said, referring to the working poor who do not benefit from government relief measures because they are not welfare recipients, taxpayers or eligible for public housing.
Improvements to the safety net in the past five years included means-tested transport subsidies for workers, and vouchers for kindergarten education and for health checks for the elderly with private doctors.