Exco to be quizzed over Walled City
By CATHERINE CHAN
LEGISLATORS are to ask the Executive Council if it endorsed the special compensation granted to absentee-owners with multiple flats in the Kowloon Walled City.
This is despite a verbal ratification from the Director of Buildings and Lands, Mr Darwin Chen, that the top policy-making body had given an unequivocal decision that all owners must be compensated.
Legislators at the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) yesterday were concerned if the issue had been brought to the attention of Exco and the Finance Committee, as recommended in the report by Director of Audit, Mr Brian Jenney.
The grant to the absentee-owners has cost taxpayers an extra $91 million in excess of the statutory compensation, according to audit chief.
Questioned by legislators, Mr Chen said Exco had considered the case of absentee-owners, but had not given specific attention to whether these people had single or multiple flats.
He said the ''large corporate owners'' stated in Exco briefing papers in 1981 meant in fact ''owners of multiple flats''.
But PAC chairman, Mr Stephen Cheong Kam-chuen, said there was no indication of an absentee-owner holding as many as 100 flats in the Exco papers.
Mr Chen also told legislator, Miss Emily Lau Wai-hing, that Exco had in 1987 approved a policy to offer compensation to owners on the same basis irrespective of the size and nature of their flats.
Deputy Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands, Mr Canice Mak Che-fong, also said he doubted that Exco would reverse its decision as the policy had been implemented in 1987.
He maintained that if a review of the policy was taken across the board, the plans for the Walled City project would be delayed.
Members also asked officials how they arrived at a mode flat size of 23.44 square metres, which resulted in an additional payment of $119 million to flat owners.
Mr Mak said the figure only gave the committee a rough idea of the size of flats, and it did not vary much from the mode flat size of 26 square metres calculated by the Director of Audit.
Mr Chen also explained that his department was under no impression that the data they computed would be used as a critical figure for putting together the compensation package.
He said they only felt that the data would provide a basis for calculation of the package when they surveyed the Walled City flats in 1987.
It was after the survey that the Special Committee chose the mode flat size as the dividing line for offering compensation for owners.
This was confirmed by Miss Leung Wai-tung, a member of the Special Committee under the Housing Authority.
''I believe our approach was pragmatic while political as well. From day one, we knew our compensation was on the generous side,'' she said.