Lam accused of ignoring park land deal
The development minister has been accused of turning a blind eye to a questionable village land deal after saying she saw no need for an investigation.
Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said only that officials would be 'alert and sensitive' in dealing with any small-house applications in Wong Chuk Yeung in Sai Kung Country Park, where villagers have sold their land and building rights to a developer.
Lam was fielding questions in the Legislative Council about the deal which critics consider a breach of the 39-year-old small-house policy that allows adult male indigenous residents to build a three-storey house once in a lifetime in their villages.
She said a probe was not justified at this stage as the Lands Department had not received any small-house application from villagers. Most information came from a press report, she said.
'We will not spend our limited manpower and resources in probing this case. But if we do receive an application, we will be alert and sensitive in handling it,' Lam said in her first public comment on the issue.
Lawmakers taking part in the weekly question-and-answer session were not impressed.
'Why did you do nothing about this?' asked Audrey Eu Yuet-mee of the Civic Party.
'You can talk to the Law Society since lawyers are involved in the deal. You can even step up publicity among rural villagers to tell them clearly that such a deal is a violation.'
Fellow party member Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee suggested that Lam was being evasive.
'You just can't sit and do nothing until the press can offer indisputable court evidence on the abuse,' she said.
'The press report was published on November 4 ... do you really care about the policy being abused or you are just used to living with it?'
Apart from Wong Chuk Yeung, Lam said the Sai Kung and Yuen Long district lands offices had received two similar complaints on transfers of small-house interests this year, and they were being followed up. Neither involved large-scale development.
Under the agreement seen by the South China Morning Post, villagers who sold their land along with building rights to the developer could opt for a lump sum cash compensation of HK$500,000 or a free flat in the development.
In return, the villagers would help the developer lodge small-house applications to the Lands Department, a move that could violate an official ban on villagers entering into prior agreements on the sale and disposal of their interests and leave them open to losing their entitlements.
Lam insisted yesterday there was no need to review the small-house application process as there were already stringent house approval procedures and sales restrictions.
But she admitted that it was difficult to gauge small-house demand and verify whether the demand claims made by the village chief were accurate.
Questioned by legislator Cheung Hok-ming who is also the deputy chief of the Heung Yee Kuk that represents the interests of indigenous residents, Lam also reiterated that the government would protect the traditional interests and rights of the indigenous villagers as enshrined in the Basic Law.
Lam said the primary objective of the small-house policy was to maintain the cohesiveness of the village clan, though Cheung said its goal was to relieve a housing shortage.