Legco report faults lands staff
Joyce Ng and Tony Cheung
'Serious dissatisfaction and disappointment' over her previous bureau's performance has followed Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor into her new role as chief secretary.
The criticism was levelled by a Legislative Council committee yesterday over the persistent failure by the Development Bureau to protect government land from illegal use.
It came in public accounts committee comments on the director of audit's report, released in March, which found several serious cases of illicit occupation - including a private park that took over a chunk of Tai Lam Country Park and used it for almost two decades.
The occupations 'reflected the persistent failure of the secretary for development, the director of lands and the officers who assumed the position of the land authority in Hong Kong in the past to effectively discharge their duty. ... To these, the committee expresses serious dissatisfaction and disappointment,' the report said.
Releasing the committee's report, which followed a series of hearings, chairman Philip Wong Yu-hong said: 'Land is scarce. The Lands Department has the utmost responsibility to protect government land resources from abuse.'
When Lam was minister, the Lands Department had accorded a low priority to land control, and had failed to conduct regular inspections, acting only in response to complaints and media reports, the committee said. Penalties, unchanged since 1972, were too lenient, it added.
But it commended Lam's 'decisive acts' against Tai Tong Lychee Valley in May in response to media reports.
The private-recreation park, operated by rural leader Leung Fuk-yuen, was found to have occupied 5,000 square metres of government land for 18 years. Illegal structures on the land have since been torn down.
Civic Party lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a member of the committee, said: 'The so-called commendation is only to recognise that the government took remedial action to meet public expectations.'
Tong said it was not a system failure. 'The department is just too slack in enforcement,' he said. 'If it doesn't have enough manpower, it should come to us and get funding.'
Lam said she had not had time to read the report, adding that 'the management of government lands has always been a very complicated matter'.
The Development Bureau said later that it had, as promised earlier, started a review of the law to tighten the penalties, and was looking into other recommendations made by the audit director.
The committee praised former director of audit Benjamin Tang Kwok-bun for remaining impartial during his term, while Tong said they would 'more closely monitor' new director David Sun Tak-kei for signs he would not be as independent.
Democrat Kam Nai-wai said Sun, a former close associate of new chief executive Leung Chun-ying on the council of City University, was not a fit candidate for the job.