Government must now come clean on reclamation errors

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 May, 2008, 12:00am

The government's announcement not to appeal against the High Court decision regarding the Wan Chai temporary reclamation should have been accompanied by an apology to the public for the delay caused to the Central-Wan Chai bypass and to the Sha Tin-Central link. The government must explain why it failed to comply not only with the law but also with its own commitments to the public.

Michael Suen Ming-yeung, the then secretary for housing, planning and lands, together with Sarah Liao Sau-tung, the then secretary for environment, transport and works announced, by public circular, in 2004 that the government would comply with the Court of Final Appeal judgment by establishing an 'overriding public need' for any future reclamation and would consult the public.

They also promised to observe the principle of the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance that the harbour belongs to Hong Kong people by law and the government should not damage the harbour without consulting the people as its lawful owners.

The government did not comply with these commitments. Over the next three years, it published four pamphlets and extensively consulted the public on its new Wan Chai reclamation proposal, claiming that the extent would be reduced from the former 26 hectares to 15 hectares. Not one word was said about the 10.7 hectares of 'temporary reclamation'.

Without any proper public consultation, the government, in July last year, gazetted the construction works for this 'temporary reclamation'. When challenged by our society, it claimed that such 'reclamation' was outside the ordinance, but the High Court recently decided it was wrong. Officials have not responded to our demand for an official inquiry into the cause of the government's mistake, which is expensive for the public because of the resultant delay.

Surely the public is entitled to be given a formal apology by the official responsible. Otherwise the administration's much-acclaimed policy of transparency in government and ministerial responsibility is meaningless.

Winston K. S. Chu, adviser,

Society for Protection of the Harbour