Small-house policy needs scrapping
Reform is never easy in a place like Hong Kong, where privileges and vested interests abound. Our government is well aware of the difficulties of fostering change and often shies away from tackling issues that may upset the haves and the have-nots in society. It is, therefore, a refreshing change for Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, widely tipped to be the next chief secretary, to discuss frankly what she has not achieved and how she is preparing to take issues forward. The outgoing development chief confessed that she could not resolve the much criticised small-house policy - a discriminatory and unsustainable scheme in which all male indigenous villagers at the age of 18 gain the right to land in the New Territories on which to build a standard three-storey village house. She revealed that the idea of drawing a line by 2029, 18 years before the Basic Law's guarantee of rights and the status quo runs out, was put to the Heung Yee Kuk for consideration. But the kuk did not respond and the government did not proceed further.
That the next government's second-in-command appears to be showing stronger political is reassuring, though her frankness may be interpreted by some as politically unwise when chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying is promoting reconciliation with opponents.
The reasons for scrapping the small-house policy are numerous. Introduced in the early 1970s as an interim fix for poor housing in rural areas, it was soon abused as a way to make quick profits; villagers often sold their rights to property developers to build houses they never live in. The policy has, indeed, degenerated into one protecting a vested interest at the expense of the public good. Not only does it look terribly outdated and discriminatory today, it also splits the community and goes against core values such as equality and fairness.
Change cannot be achieved overnight. We appreciate that any attempt to abolish the decades-old privilege must proceed with sensitivity and caution. But it is in Hong Kong's long-term interest to abolish this anachronistic scheme. The earlier it is done, the better.