It's time to reassert the rule of law in the New Territories

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 February, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 February, 2007, 12:00am

I was surprised at the government's assertion that the container yards around the Yuen Long estate where a 12-year-old boy was killed by a truck are legal ('Most container storage parks close to Fairview Park legal', February 8). If this is indeed the case, we obviously need new and better laws to address the land-use mess, as 'Grounds for dissent' makes clear (February 16).

Let's admit that the old laws are confusing and lack transparency. Let's admit that it is high time for an overhaul. No doubt there is a commercial need for container parks, but Singapore, with its world-class port and less land than Hong Kong, manages quite well without losing control of its town planning. The Hong Kong government pays only lip service to preserving the environment of the New Territories.

On a more sinister level, what is really disturbing is that the government is surely well aware that the old laws are inadequate or being abused. The entire landscape of the western New Territories testifies to this lawlessness. There is talk that indigenous villagers have to rent their land at a discount to triad middlemen, who in turn rent land to the container park operators.

The government is quite capable of introducing more effective laws, and of helping district lands office staff work in safer conditions. So, why doesn't it?

As your unnamed industry source says in 'Grounds for dissent', the government does not want to upset 'people with vested interests'.

The unpalatable truth of the matter is that there is an undertow of forces in this society, especially in the New Territories, that quietly undermines the rule of law with intimidation and fear. Its presence was made clear right after the 1997 handover, when two Yuen Long district land office staff were attacked, one of whom lost an eye. The Yuen Long department has been crippled ever since.

Top government officials living safely on Hong Kong Island and surrounded by police when they travel do not feel the intimidation that others have to live with. This is why we are unlikely ever to discover why legislator Albert Ho Chun-yan was brutally attacked in a Central McDonald's, or who is behind the threats to radio and TV talk-show hosts.

Everyone dances around this problem, afraid to talk about it openly. But as long as we don't dare openly discuss systemic triad intimidation in the New Territories, we can never tackle the problem.

In the 1970s, when this kind of social problem reached a comparable scale (similarly cloaked behind soothing words such as 'tradition'), it took the strong leadership of governor Murray MacLehose and the creation of the Independent Commission Against Corruption to clean up the mess. It's time for a similar clean-up in the New Territories. The government public relations machine should know by now that people are tired of the chant 'harmonious society' - code for 'keep quiet and bear the injustice'. Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and his government must step up to the New Territories challenge.

M. CHEN, Tai Po