Discovery Bay land fee 'not a fair move'
Michael Suen says it would not be reasonable to recover premium
It would be unfair to recover a huge land premium from the developers of Discovery Bay that apparently should have been paid 20 years ago, housing chief Michael Suen Ming-yeung said yesterday.
The secretary of housing, planning and lands said the money could not be considered lost revenue as there was no evidence that it should have been collected.
Other officials said they had no idea why the sum, which legislators estimate could be as high as $10 billion, was not collected after the developers changed the original plan from a holiday resort to a luxury housing development.
Legco's Public Accounts Committee is investigating the issue after it was exposed by an Audit Commission report this month that criticised the unchecked development of the residential area.
Mr Suen told a public hearing of the committee: 'We need evidence ... We cannot say it is unreasonable on the surface [that the premium was not charged] and say now that it should be charged.'
The Lands Department was also criticised in the report for failing to assess whether Discovery Bay's developers should be charged a land premium after changing the project's master layout plan eight times since the mid-1970s.
Director of Lands Patrick Lau Lai-chiu said if today's government practices were applied 20 years ago, a land premium would have been charged for the change of land use in the master layout plan.
But he said the government could find no record of why the money was not collected then and dismissed calls from committee members to recover the sum.
'The government did not charge the money then and if we collected it 20 years later, there would be big difficulties ... there will be a legal controversy,' Mr Lau said.
It is understood that David Akers-Jones, who was then secretary for New Territories in charge of the project, and later became the chief secretary, will testify at a hearing next month.
Sir David is retired in Hong Kong.