Action better than pointless censure

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 April, 2012, 12:00am


The Link Real Estate Investment Trust is one of the city's largest commercial property owners and managers, but many people still think it should function like a public body.

There are pressure tactics that can justifiably be applied to its commercial operations in districts where neighbours' livelihoods have been adversely affected, but activists need to be more focused if they want to bring about positive results - not level silly or ineffectual criticism against what is normal corporate behaviour.

The Link's latest promotion - featuring 'nostalgic restaurants' in its malls - is innocuous enough, but it has provoked derision and protest. The Link is accused by social activists of hypocrisy for celebrating small traditional restaurants after squeezing most of them out with high rents.

Indeed, it suffers criticism every time it raises rents.

The Housing Authority sold its shopping malls and car parks to The Link seven years ago. The Link tried vainly to avoid raising rents, changing its tenant mix and revamping its malls, until shareholders such as the Children's Investment Fund Management, a hedge fund, rebelled. The Link's then-chairman, Paul Cheng Ming-fun, and some of his lieutenants were forced out.

Since then, The Link has repeatedly had to raise rents, kick out tenants who could not pay and revamp most of its 180 malls and markets. Hence Starbucks instead of teahouses.

There are real issues with The Link. Residents in Tung Chung, which has no publicly operated wet market, have reportedly had to pay more than average citywide grocery prices in Link malls. Tin Shui Wai, a low-income district, faces a similar problem as The Link owns most markets and shopping malls, whose higher rents have forced tenants to charge more for goods.

As a way of easing these difficulties, the government should consider licensing more food vendors and hawkers in Tung Chung and elsewhere. Pressure could be brought on The Link to accept these vendors and offer rent concessions. At the very least, more licensed vendors should be allowed to operate in places other than Link malls.