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  • Jul 25, 2014
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PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 July, 2013, 3:30am

Legacy's on his mind as Lee takes his critics to task

Henderson boss' philosophy of gaining the maximum with the minimum can be seen with his plan to donate farmland to build cheap homes

Trick" or "treat"? That is the question that has been playing on people's minds ever since Lee Shau-kee offered to donate rural land to the government to build HK$1 million homes for young people.

The government on Wednesday turned down the offer, five months after he made it.

Most people I spoke to before the decision saw in it a trick to add value to the farmland he has accumulated at negligible cost over the decades. They also said the infrastructure built with taxpayers' money for these special homes would breathe life into his other property assets nearby.

This suspicious lot also held that the development terms of the "charity project" would set a nice precedent for his own holdings, such as a low (even waived) land premium or a high plot ratio.

It is hard not to be cynical. "Whatever deal you are selling, Lee's reply always ends with the same note - 'can it be cheaper?'" said an investment banker.

I thought no different, until Wednesday. Lee made a rare speech that night at a dinner event held by the Hong Kong News Executives' Association.

Our multibillionaires do not usually speak to the press. When they want to make their views known, they normally "run into" some journalist, who - serendipitously - always happens to be in the same lift lobby as our eminences. And, when they want to talk about their philosophy, they speak to students and academics.

With his two sons by his side, Lee read out from a five-page script at the dinner, addressing each and every criticism of his and his empire over the years.

And there are many. There is the mandarin-business conspiracy; the collapse of the HK$71,000 per square foot sale of his apartments that is still being investigated; and the birth of his surrogate-born triplet grandsons.

He then went on to list some of his misunderstood yet well-intended acts.

Among them was the turning of a plot of hospital land into apartments, which, he said, was to increase housing supply and the government's land premium income.

There might be differences over the intent of his headline-making moves over the years but the aim of his speech was beyond doubt. The Henderson Land Development chairman, at 85, is now focused on posterity and wants to clear his name.

His sons are not that into the thrill of multimillion-dollar investment bets that helped build his empire. And his grandchildren are toddlers. So Lee carries his own legacy, and legacy was what he messaged in the three-hour speech.

Lee has reasons to be worried. He has seen how tycoons' public image can be tarnished beyond repair. To many like him, the last thing they want is being demonised like Li Ka-shing.

He has also witnessed the change in tycoon-friendly policies in Hong Kong and Beijing. If you are a billionaire, being socially conscious is best these days.

Land donation to build homes for the youth would be great for his legacy and a good fit for his spending philosophy.

In his speech, Lee said: "I am successful in making money but I can't take it to the grave. I was once the fourth-wealthiest person in the world. I have to be a successful spender as well.

"My philosophy is to gain the maximum with the minimum. A high-return donation is successful spending."

The proposed project would have cost little. Valuers estimate the acquisition cost of farmland would be less than HK$100 million. The infrastructure would be paid for by taxpayers, and the buyers would foot the building costs. The returns could be good. And best of all, it would just be the perfect counter to the charge of being a greedy developer.

More than good, the returns would be unending. A mere donation of land, as some government officials have suggested, would disappear from the headlines in days. After all, it is just a drop in the ocean for the public land bank.

A housing project on the donated land, on the other hand, would be there for years. And it would bear Lee's signature. Public expectation and pressure would have ensured it would be completed quickly for Lee to reap the reward.

Homes for 1,000 young people would subsequently benefit 1,000 young families, generating 4,000 benefactors - and living proof of his legacy.

And what about the benefits for his land nearby? With limited public information on the location of the land that he had planned to donate and his land ownership in the rural areas, there is no accurate answer to that one.

A quick thought is that any material benefit for Lee would have been leaked out by government officials who have been scratching their heads on the tycoon's proposal in the past few months before finally deciding to reject it.

Trick or treat, it would be politically too difficult for the government to accept the proposal. After all, it is always easier to see a tycoon through the lens of greed than altruism.

shirley.yam@scmp.com

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pslhk
If legacy's on LSK's mind
he may wish to focus on two Conduit Road examples
that should show why he is disliked by his customers and the public
-
No 39 is disgraceful building, of cheap design and high price
There isn't even a private booth or even a stand for its watchmen
who are posted on public pavement
in summer time they take refuge
under a makeshift umbrella with an electric fan
all placed on public land
with water bottles on the ground
like hawkers selling drinks outside a public lavatory
It hasn't changed the narrow and curvy ramp of Rocky Mount
the old building which it has replaced
probably for grandfathering its existing encroachment on public land
Its façade is an eyesore of tedious wall
with a rusty metal and glass door
that looks cheaper than most found in public housing estates
no wonder it's 80% vacant years after completion
-
Imperial Court at No 62G is a 50+storey monster
erected on what was once a wooded slope
Inexplicably the development of such a monstrous compound
situated in a curvy section of the street
was approved WITHOUT the provision of a private loading area
Yet it's obtained license to operate two shuttle buses
that loiter on the street between scheduled runs
making noises and spilling pollutants,
or illegally parking roadside or in other people's private driveways
taxis, school buses, vans and trucks often line up roadside along the building
creating public inconvenience and hazards
aplucky1
legacy, ha
this vile pos thinks he is living forever
johnyuan
Let us refocus on property developers. Much of Hong Kong social ills have much to do with them. If they don’t become part of solution, Hong Kong will be just fighting shadows of them.
babyhenry
If a whole project is sponsored by him (he can name it anything for all I care), and he sells it at cost for the building (land donated) than he is a real deal.
As a matter he doesnt even have to build new ones, if he and those tycoons can kindly refit their endless industrial buildings which many are empty to places where people can stay until they get public housing instead of staying in those small filthy rooms and cages, he will have done the city a even more valuable service.
John Adams
The day Lee Shau-kee comes clean on 39 Conduit Road is the day I might ( possibly) believe he has had a change of heart in his posterity and has at last stopped being so greedy.
XYZ
If Mr. Lee's motives were truly philanthropic, he'd donate the land, build the housing, and sell at below-market cost or give away the flats to young people.
 
 
 
 
 

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