A legal responsibility

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 September, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 September, 1996, 12:00am

Any postcard of a Hong Kong street scene demonstrates what residents know only too well; that the architecture of the territory is a haphazard amalgam of crumbling concrete illegal structures and rusting signboards, defying gravity and endangering the lives of those who walk beneath.

It was supposed, after the Aberdeen canopy collapse which took the life of an elderly newspaper vendor two years ago, that the law would be amended to make owners responsible for the safety of their property. Instead, a year later, another pedestrian was killed when a canopy collapsed above the food stall where he was eating, and at the inquest into his death, we learn that this long overdue law may not be finally drafted until the end of the year.

Even allowing for the intricacies of the legal process, this is an insupportable delay. Laws can be altered quickly enough when it suits the administration. No urgency seems to have been attached to this brief piece of legislation. If it had been, it is possible that the Kwun Tong property would have been checked and reinforced. Five little children might not have been left fatherless.

It is quite impossible for buildings inspectors to check every structure in the territory. At the rate at which property changes hands, and is divided among myriad owners and tenants, it is easy for landlords to deny responsibility for building work carried out by past owners.

But unless and until the law places responsibility for maintenance squarely on their shoulders, some owners will continue to economise on repairs, taking the view that illegal work carried out previously is no concern of theirs.

There must be no further delay in amending the statute book to put an end to this irresponsibility. Innocent lives must no longer be placed at risk by legal conundrums.