My Take

Digging deep for some illegal space

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 February, 2013, 1:55am

Is the illegal giant basement found under the home of former chief executive candidate Henry Tang Ying-yen and his wife in Kowloon Tong an exception, the result of the couple's greed for space despite their already huge luxury home?

Or is it much more common among the city's super-rich, who, given their means and connections - and the fact that most of their homes exist within guarded compounds - make it easy to escape official and media scrutiny?

Are we to believe the Tangs are just exceptionally greedy and that their neighbours and wealthy peers in other exclusive areas are all law-abiding citizens?

Tang has said he felt hard done by because his lawyers and architects said they have never seen such an in-depth probe into illegal structures. Perhaps he knows of other cases which he cannot disclose given the close-knit nature of elite society in Hong Kong.

Well, at least he looks set to escape prosecution, unlike his wife, Lisa Kuo Yu-chin, and three others who now face buildings charges that may carry a significant jail time if convicted.

Pick a flat owner in Hong Kong and chances are he will have illegal works in his property. Given the city's outdated buildings codes and that most people live in shoeboxes, it is to be expected that people will do what they can to improve their living conditions, legal or not.

But there is a wide gulf that separates minor alterations from the kind of massive structural rebuilding and architectural design that characterised the Tangs' 2,250 sq ft basement. It's the gulf that separates the rich from the rest.

Tang's rival and now chief executive Leung Chun-ying has had a few illegal structures of his own at his exclusive Peak home, including an illegal basement, though nowhere as big as the Tangs'.

A friend's girlfriend once delivered flowers to one of the city's most prominent tycoons near Tai Tam and was told to put them in a huge basement. Perhaps that basement was legal, but who knows, she thought.

This is a big can of worms that no officials would want to open. But given that our property tycoons have enriched themselves with the connivance of the government at our expense, it's only fair they should follow the law to a tee.