Public has no truck with empty promises
A long-running row between residents of Fairview Park in Yuen Long and truck-driving villagers over their vehicles' use of a private road hit the headlines again last week when more than 20 elderly villagers sat in a row on stools to block the main entrance to the estate.
That came after the estate's managers put up signs in Tai Sang Wai village warning truckers not to use the road. The standoff prompted government officials and rural leaders to step in - again.
On Friday, Fairview Park residents published a full-page advertisement in several newspapers giving notice that they would take 'peaceful means within a few days' to stop container trucks using the private road.
The advert chronicled the steps they have taken since 1995 to end the impasse. It urged container-truck drivers to use a public bypass purpose-built by the Transport Department as an alternative to the private road, Fairview Park Boulevard.
'Fairview Park residents live near Mai Po, a quiet rural area not an industrial zone ... It is our right to protect our own environment by peaceful means,' the advert said.
The unusual move by the estate's residents to seek the public's sympathy, if not support, for their use of 'peaceful means' to protect their 'harmonious and peaceful home environment' raises some worrying questions about what our government has been doing. It shows residents' frustration and sense of helplessness about the administration's efforts to solve the problem.
The government may well feel it has already done what it can. It built the bypass, Kam Pok Road, for container-truck drivers to use - though, because of a legal dispute, the road, completed in 2005, was opened only two years ago following the death of a 12-year-old boy crushed under the wheels of a container truck while on his bicycle on Fairview Park Boulevard.
Drivers, however, say using the bypass adds 3km, and 15 minutes, to their journey between New Territories container storage yards and the Lok Ma Chau border crossing.
Officials maintain there is not much more they can do to prompt truck drivers to take the longer route. Furthermore, they find themselves unable to intervene in a legal dispute between the estate's managers and the villagers over rights to the use of Fairview Park Boulevard.
Villagers claim the estate's developer promised 30 years ago that they could use the road. Estate managers say they issued a public appeal in September for anyone claiming a right of way over the road to come forward but that they got no response.
The latest turn in the dispute has received only moderate media coverage. It was discussed on radio phone-ins, but political parties have not jumped into the dispute and the public has appeared largely indifferent to the matter, even though a fresh standoff looms between residents and villagers when the estate's managers attempt to bar trucks from the road.
Achieving a compromise appears harder than ever. The residents are no longer focusing on who pays for maintenance of the road if it is open to container trucks. They now say they cannot tolerate the pollution and traffic dangers the trucks cause.
With both sides taking matters into their own hands, the government has been marginalised.
Compared with such big issues as job creation and democratic elections, the Fairview Park saga probably does not even register on the government's radar screen. But public attitudes towards the government will only worsen if there is a growing feeling that the administration has not only failed to deliver on big issues but has not managed to get even small things done.
Hong Kong people accept their government is not omnipotent. Still, they expect it to act smartly, swiftly and with authority and credibility when there is a need to solve practical problems. Their patience will wear thin and their sense of grievance will deepen when they find the chief executive's promise to 'get the job done' was an empty one.