100 angry protesters rally against The Link's actions
Fox Yi Hu
More than 100 angry vendors, unionists and restaurateurs protested outside the Legislative Council yesterday against The Link Management.
They were making demands on a range of issues - including fire compensation, rent cuts and lease renewal - concerning The Link's properties throughout the city.
The demonstration followed an overnight sit-in outside Government House by 30 Hau Tak market vendors from Tseung Kwan O whose venue has been closed since a fire on March 29. They also made a petition trip to St Joseph's Church where Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen was at morning prayer.
The Link chief executive Victor So Hing-woh told Legco that most of the market could be reopened in two months if the vendors stopped delaying it.
Yeung Hung-kwong, a representative of the Hau Tak vendors, said during the protest: 'After the fire, The Link has been dedicated to shedding its responsibility instead of assisting the vendors.' He said The Link and Majorluck, which managed the market for The Link, should compensate the vendors.
The vendors said Majorluck turned off the sprinkler system without warning them against fire hazards. They demanded three months' rent as compensation and rejected The Link's offer to refund their deposits equivalent to three months' rent.
Mr So told Legco that about a quarter of the stalls had been seriously damaged, adding that it would take two weeks to clear the debris and another six weeks to renovate the market.
'Without delay, three-quarters of the market can be reopened in two months,' he said.
But he said the company could not clear the site without the vendors collecting their belongings. 'Some vendors are waiting for us to do it.'
Mr So ruled out offering compensation across the board on grounds that vendors had different losses. But he did not say whether it would make any compensation. Other protesters were complaining about dramatic rent increases and The Link's refusal to renew some leases.
A restaurant association said The Link had broken its promise of renewing leases with its members without increasing the rent until 2010.
But Mr So said his company had only agreed to make the arrangement for some restaurants. He said the average rent increase imposed last year was 8.3 per cent. 'We have to be flexible in making business decisions to enhance the property,' he said.
Legislators lashed out at the idea of The Link being treated as an ordinary enterprise, suggesting it should carry greater social responsibilities.
But Housing Department deputy director Kenneth Mak Ching-yu said the government could not interfere with The Link's commercial strategies. 'A business organisation has to seek profits. It has to follow market rules and the market will regulate its behaviour.'