Private clubs still getting easy ride
When a policy becomes so twisted and abused that it no longer serves its purpose, it should be either scrapped or modernised as soon as possible to meet expectations. But the government appears to think otherwise in the case of land leases for private recreation clubs. Despite an outcry against the archaic practice of giving land for free or at a token price, officials have decided to renew the leases for 15 years. Meanwhile, they have introduced piecemeal interim fixes while sitting on a long-overdue review on an outdated colonial policy. The foot-dragging sits oddly with the chief executive's crusade to find more land to ease the housing shortage in Hong Kong.
For decades, some 70 clubs have been given land for free or at a nominal charge. Some of them occupy prime sites and open the door to those who can afford to pay handsome membership fees. Although the leases mandate the opening up of some facilities to non-members, compliance has not been observed until the issue was brought up in a Post report in 2011. Since then, the Home Affairs Bureau has pledged to do a better job by stepping up monitoring and pushing for greater public access to the club's facilities.
Sadly, two years have passed but officials are still tip-toeing around the problem. The measures being put in place to enhance public access do not go far enough. Under the new rule, the clubs have to open their facilities for at least 50 hours a month. Although this is better than nothing, the obligation is still disproportionate to the benefits gained.
Taking back all sites overnight is neither realistic nor reasonable. But a 15-year lease pending an overhaul seems too long. Admittedly, some clubs have done a good job in providing affordable sports facilities. But many remain underused, giving the government a case to resume the land for use for other purposes. Officials should speed up their review lest they give the impression that the problem is being shirked and left to future governments.