Special committee of experts can look into all aspects of small-house policy
The remarks on the small-house policy made by Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor while still development secretary, shortly before she became chief secretary, sparked considerable controversy. She raised the prospect of terminating the policy by 2029.
Although she quickly clarified her comments, saying that the government had no intention of, or timetable for, doing so, her rhetoric certainly drew severe criticism from the indigenous community in the New Territories, and remains at this point an issue that worries all stakeholders.
In fact, I believe the long-standing question regarding the illegal structures on village houses and the right of indigenous male villagers to build small houses is not merely an issue of differences over rural land use, but rather a political issue that should be examined in its historical context.
Although there should be nothing ambiguous about the current small-house-policy specifications, which already impose clear size limits on village houses, there remain some fundamental differences between the Heung Yee Kuk and the administration over certain grey areas in the existing legislation governing the various aspects of rural land rights.
In order to achieve a complete and long-term resolution of the issue, the current administration should learn from the former colonial government in order to defuse the present political bomb. It should set up a special committee and invite people with different talents, including legal, architectural, engineering and surveying experts, members of the kuk, officials and political representatives from different sectors of society.
The committee should be charged with carrying out full-scale studies of the land rights issue in the New Territories in its historical, social and legal perspectives. It should explore every possible option to resolve the matter in a way that is acceptable to the major stakeholders.
Of course, if the major parties involved cannot find common ground, then there could be court cases on this issue.
However, by engaging experts in the relevant disciplines to seek to solve the problems that exist, the effects of this political bomb could be minimised.
No matter what solution is eventually found, I believe the government should always seek to minimise any inconvenience to the public.
It should be willing to be lenient without compromising public safety, and it should avoid causing unnecessary panic or apprehension among the rural community.
Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, legislative councillor