Lau left Exco post 'to handle kuk row'
Heung Yee Kuk chairman Lau Wong-fat said yesterday that he had declined an offer to stay as an Executive Council member under Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying so he could focus on handling conflicts over unauthorised structures in the New Territories.
Lau said he had tried to act as a peacemaker during the government's crackdown on unauthorised and illegal structures as protests by angry villagers began to swell from the middle of last year.
Speaking at a meeting of the rural affairs body yesterday, Lau said the 'house removal storm' had taken the relationship between the kuk and its 27 rural committees and the government to a low point.
'To handle this storm and defend villagers' traditional legal rights, I decided not to accept the Executive Council appointment so I could focus on the Heung Yee Kuk's work,' he said.
Lau said politics in rural New Territories had been 'stirred up like the wind and rain' recently, and that 'the people's discontent was rising'.
But he said he hoped he could continue leading the kuk to co-operate with the government.
During the unauthorised housing structure row, many rural residents accused Lau of being weak in negotiating with the government.
As part of a new policy that was enacted on April 1, buildings officers will issue demolition notices for 'severe' breaches of building regulations, including homes higher than the standard three storeys.
The crackdown has also seen the introduction of a register of homes with minor violations. These will be tolerated, subject to safety checks.
In June last year, hundreds of villagers protested outside the Legislative Council.
Lau tried to act as a mediator in December when the government criticised a protest by villagers outside the kuk's headquarters in Sha Tin, where an effigy of the then development secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was burned.
Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who was then chief executive, and Lam insisted at the time that the government would not be intimidated.
When questioned by reporters at the time about whether he was properly fulfilling his role as an executive councillor and assisting the chief executive in policymaking, Lau replied: 'I understand my role.'
Although Lau decided not to continue his position in Exco, the kuk's vice-chairman Cheung Hok-ming, who is a Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong lawmaker, accepted an offer to join the advisory group.