Clearance of rooftop families attacked
By NAOMI LEE
THE ombudsman yesterday slammed as 'inherently unfair and inconsistent' the Government's clearance of illegal homes.
Andrew So Kwok-wing, whose formal title is the Commissioner for Administrative Complaints, said that while many families who had lived on rooftops for more than 10 years were made homeless by the department's clearing operations, some empty and illegal structures in wealthier areas were untouched.
Mr So started investigating the Building Department's handling of clearances after the controversy over Tsuen Wan rooftop residents early this year.
The row worsened when it was revealed that illegal rooftop structures had been found on top of expensive buildings where Housing Secretary Dominic Wong Shing-wah and the brother of the Chief Secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang lived.
The report said the Buildings Department inspected only those unauthorised buildings which drew public complaints and, according to policy set out in 1988, acted only on those complaints that threatened public safety.
Mr So said the selective system was unfair.
'The Government's prime concern is safety,' he said in his report.
'However, the department's existing procedures cannot ensure that all unauthorised building works bearing the highest degree of imminent risk to life and property would be identified systematically and on a comprehensive basis for removal.' Mr So was concerned about the department's inability to take the initiative to act on genuine unauthorised building works and the fact that many homes which did not pose a danger to the public were cleared away in the course of large-scale operations.
'There is no policy on the clearance of rooftop structures in recognition of the fact that most of these structures are homes and not simply unauthorised building works,' the report said.
'The size of the rehousing commitment had not been assessed prior to the commencement of the clearance, though the actual number of families/persons rehoused into public housing as a result of the department's closure orders was small in past years.' The report also says the original timetable given by the department for residents to comply with advisory letters or removal orders is 'unrealistic and [shows] lack of consideration of the likely problems facing the residents'.
Mr So called for a review of the priority system which was to blame for the department's 'unfair, discretionary and inconsistent' manner in implementing policy.
He also said a comprehensive policy should be planned to deal with more than one million unauthorised building works in the territory, of which only 15 per cent had been treated with high priority.
Acting Director of Buildings, Cheng Wei-dart, said the ombudsman's criticism oversimplified a 'complex and difficult problem'.
He said the department had limited resources and it was impossible to work on matters other than complaints from the public.
He said he would consider reviewing procedure. Mr Cheng defended the present policy, saying that about 140,000 unauthorised building works of all types had been cleared at the rate of about 20,000 a year.