Officials failing to tackle illegal land occupation
The Audit Commission has slammed the Lands Department for dragging its heels and allowing a rural strongman to unlawfully occupy a swathe of government land where a business has been run for 18 years.
The case of Leung Fuk-yuen using 5,000 square metres of land for a recreational park is just one of many examples of the department's failure to act on illegal use of unleased government land that it manages, the Director of Audit's report released yesterday said.
Leung is chairman of the Shap Pat Heung Rural Committee.
'Cases of prolonged, unlawful occupation of government land may be seen as a result of the Lands Department's lack of determination in taking enforcement action on land matters,' the report said.
'[Such cases] also set undesirable examples and undermine the department's reputation.'
The site being illegally occupied was not disclosed in the report, but a source familiar with the investigation named it as Tai Tong Lychee Valley, a commercial recreational facility in Tai Lam Country Park, Yuen Long.
Leung is one of two directors. He is also a key member of the Heung Yee Kuk rural affairs body and a vocal opponent of the government's crackdown on illegal structures in village houses in the New Territories.
The park was much bigger in 1993, when it was first noted by the department, with its fruit trees taking up 8.2 hectares of government land.
Over the years, the department has conducted 25 site inspections and issued 12 warning letters - yet the business still exists. It now covers 12,397 square metres, of which 4,672 square metres is government land.
Its facilities include areas for ox-cart rides, horse riding, war games and a zoo. Until recently it also had a canteen, barbecue site and bat cave, but these are now closed. Visitors are charged an admission fee of HK$70. Schools visit the park for day trips.
The commission said the operator had removed some unauthorised structures whenever it received a department notice - only to replace them with new illegal additions soon after. Leung could not be reached for comment yesterday but a Tai Tong Lychee Valley spokesman said the park 'would continue operating'.
According to the report, the department has complied with the auditor's call for swift action to end the unlawful occupation, and the operator has agreed to demolish the illegal structures within two months.
The auditor described is as a serious case of inefficiency by a department whose priority is land resumption for infrastructure and housing development, instead of enforcement against illegal land use.
It blamed lenient penalties for the abuses. Of the 21 convictions from 2008 to 2011, the total fines imposed amounted to just HK$81,900, with the maximum HK$10,000 imposed in only two cases. The commission called for a review of the strategy on managing unallocated government land, since such sites make up 29 per cent of the city's total land area.
The number of suspected cases of land misuse reported to the department rose 15 per cent last year from 2008, to 8,406. As of December, 494 of the cases listed as 'high priority' had missed the four-month completion target. Four cases have been outstanding for more than a decade.
Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor agreed the department should take prompt action, but said it 'has to prioritise its work among competing tasks and claims, taking into account the implications for the public'.
'Government sites are spread all over the New Territories and this has made it impracticable for the department to patrol them regularly.'
The department had set up a team for the New Territories with 39 officers handling land control, she said.