Compensation 'robs poor to subsidise rich'
FORMER Kowloon Walled City residents accused the Government of ''robbing the poor to subsidise the rich'' after it was disclosed that a former resident was overpaid $14 million in compensation for his 100 flats.
Residents said yesterday that the case, revealed on Wednesday in a report by the Director of Audit, Mr Brian Jenney, was proof of government maladministration.
But members of the special committee set up to deal with the compensation said they were puzzled by the timing and purpose of Mr Jenney's criticisms.
Rejecting his charges, the members maintained that they were not over-generous with taxpayers' money.
Mr Jenney noted that 259 people owned but did not occupy 694 of the flats. By paying them compensation for each of the flats, he estimated, $91 million too much had been paid.
The residents' representative, Mr Ma Chong-chung, who was paid $400,000, said: ''It proved the Government did not have a standard on compensation.
''Some big families owning many flats had only one or two of the units compensated, while an absentee-owner was over-compensated by $34 million.'' Mr Ma demanded an independent body be set up to reassess their compensations.
A member of the Special Committee on Clearance of Kowloon Walled City, Miss Leung Wai-tung, said members were aware of some absentee-owners when fixing the compensation terms.
''But the committee thought it would be difficult to single out owners of many flats for specially discounted compensations,'' she said.
''You had to justify the special treatment and the discount; besides, you had to define 'many'.'' Another member, Mr Chan Hip-ping, said: ''It is not an acceptable and fair package if you are not compensated for all you lost.
''If I owed you $10, could I pay back only $5?'' So far the Government has paid about $3 billion in compensation. Thirty of the 10,800 residents refused to accept government offers and about 70 residents had appealed to the special committee.
The Special Duties Office, the government unit responsible for the clearance and compensation negotiations, was dissolved last August.
The unit's head, Mr Philip Chok Kin-fun, then Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs, is now Deputy Regional Secretary (Hongkong and Kowloon).
The Buildings and Lands Department refused to comment yesterday. A spokesman said the department's response had been contained in Mr Jenney's report and no further comment could be made at this stage.