Kuk chairman calls truce with Lam
Olga Wong and Thomas Chan
Rural leader Lau Wong-fat and likely next chief secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor tried to cool an intensifying public debate on the New Territories small-house policy, triggered after Lam said it was time to draw a line for an end to the policy.
Lau, chairman of the Heung Yee Kuk and leader of tens of thousands of villagers who have benefited from the policy, said he was willing to sit down and talk with the government on the issue. 'We are not barbarians. We hope the government will table some proposals and discuss with us,' Lau said. 'Having said that, I think Lam's statement is inappropriate because it will lead to public speculation about the Basic Law.'
Lam meanwhile stressed she was only expressing a personal opinion when she called for ending the policy of the right of male indigenous villagers to build a three-storey, 2,100 sq ft house when they turn 18, and that one possibly was in 2029.
'As a responsible official, I have to address the question,' she said in response to questions whether she had been indiscreet. 'Do you want to hear the government repeatedly saying the problem couldn't be dealt with because it's complicated?'
She raised the possibility after being asked in an interview with the South China Morning Post on Tuesday why she had not tackled the 40-year-old policy in her term as development minister.
Cancelling the policy in 2029 would imply that the last generation enjoying the right would be those turning 18 in 2047 - the end of the 50-year transitional period in which Hongkongers were guaranteed an unchanged way of life under the Basic Law.
Political analyst James Sung Lap-kung saw Lam's words as a 'tactful' way to defuse a political time-bomb.
He added that Lau's willingness to talk showed rural figures that they could no longer delay a review of the policy, given the clear stance expressed by an official who could influence future government policies.
'I do think she has communications with the next chief executive. Both of them touched on the city's major conflicts that might touch on the Basic Law and require discussion with the central government,' said Sung, referring to Leung Chun-ying's decision to ban the delivery of babies by mainland parents in Hong Kong.