Policy confusion undermines fight against rooftop huts
BILLY WONG WAI-YUK
Apparent confusion among officials over guidelines on the clearance of rooftop huts means the trade in them is continuing.
The number of rooftop structures has never been disclosed, but there are estimated to be about 80,000 illegal structures including huts, flower cages, canopies and external water towers.
Rooftop dwellers said many people were still buying illegal huts without knowing the structures faced clearance. Rooftop residents are not eligible for rehousing in public rental flats.
In this year's government policy objectives, Secretary for Housing Dominic Wong Shing-wah pledged to clear illegal rooftop structures on 1,300 buildings with a single flight of stairs by the financial year 2001-2002 - an average of more than 400 buildings each year.
But Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands Bowen Leung Po-wing has pledged to clear only 100 buildings a year.
A Buildings Department spokesman said officials were trying to find out which guidelines to follow. 'There are some discrepancies among different government bodies. We are still sorting it out.' A Housing Bureau spokesman said: 'The 1,300 buildings are just a reference. We can clear the rooftop structures for 100 buildings for the first year, and the rest in the coming years.' Most of the single-stair buildings are in districts such as Shamshuipo, Tai Kok Tsui, Kowloon City, Wan Chai and Central and Western.
Rooftop dwellers who were in huts before registration of squatters in 1982 will be rehoused by the Housing Department if they pass a means test. Those who moved in after registration will be put in interim housing where they can stay for a year. The restriction is aimed at stopping people jumping the queue for public rental flats.
Veteran social activist Ho Hei-wah, director of the Society for Community Organisation, said the discrepancies showed the Government was insincere.
'What the Government should do is to cope with its expansion by educating people that these types of structures are illegal and will be doomed for clearance,' Mr Ho said.
'They should not write 'blank cheques' by pledging large-scale clearance.'