Structures crackdown official under fire
The top official with the job of cracking down on illegal structures on buildings is embroiled in a row over possible conflict of interest after approving the sliding windows on a balcony at his home without going through the formal procedure.
The controversy continued yesterday despite an emergency inspection by the Buildings Department and a ruling that the structure at the Tai Hang flat of its director, Au Choi-kai, is safe and lawful.
The department said: 'When the director bought the premises in 1991, the sliding glass windows had already been installed on the balcony. The director at that time made a professional assessment that the work was exempted from formal approval and was not illegal.'
Au was a chief buildings surveyor when he bought the flat. He became director of buildings in 2008.
Earlier in the day he issued a statement in which he maintained that he believed the windows were safe and there was no need for him to seek formal approval from the department.
At Fontana Gardens, an upmarket estate where Au lives, sliding windows have been installed on the balconies of many apartments. It is not known if all are lawful.
Au is the latest top government official - including Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen - accused of having illegal extensions at their properties, while the government is in the middle of a crackdown to remove unauthorised structures.
Civic Party legislator and barrister Alan Leong Kah-kit said Au should have hired an independent surveyor to check the work. 'He wears two hats. It is like he is the judge and he is at the same time the defendant.'
Democratic Party lawmaker Lee Wing-tat said the director owed the public an explanation as to why he did not hire a third party to double-check the balcony. 'There is an obvious case of conflict of interest here. He did not do any checking before but then ruled on his own that it was not illegal,' Lee said.
Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors president Wong Bay said that in the 1960s and 1970s, sliding glass windows on balconies were commonly allowed and not considered illegal.
Legislator Professor Patrick Lau Sau-shing, an architect, urged a review of the policy. 'Those structures that could pose a clear danger to the public should be cleared immediately. But those less dangerous perhaps can be dealt with at a later stage.
'I am not saying that the illegal structure problem can be ignored, but it is a complicated issue and it takes time to resolve.'