Paul Chan put his foot in it by suggesting country park homes
Paul Chan Mo-po is so gaffe-prone it's a wonder his boss the chief executive has not imposed a public communication ban on him. The development secretary has done it again, this time saying that Hong Kong should consider building flats in country parks to boost land supply.
Almost as soon as he pressed "send" to post his hare-brained scheme on his blog, his counterpart at the Environment Bureau, Wong Kam-sing, rushed in to clarify that there is absolutely no such plan. Chan's public relations minders also jumped in, saying the idea was only for public discussion. Well, he certainly got everyone all hot and bothered.
One person described as being "close to the government" - that is, someone quite senior in the government but quite gutless to speak on record - said Chan's idea was just "a political gesture ... to test the water".
A spokesman for his bureau said: "Those views do not represent the government's stance."
So now, a minister speaking or blogging in public does not necessarily represent the government and may be only thinking out loud. Still, I am relieved that the government does not want to build on country parks, which account for 40 per cent of Hong Kong's land - not 70 per cent as Chan wrote - and are rightly described as the city's lungs. Unlike some critics, I entertain no conspiracy theory on this one. Chan is so policy-challenged that he is very likely to be speaking, or rather writing, off the top of his head. It's not the first time.
Early this year, Chan told lawmakers his bureau was eyeing some People's Liberation Army barracks to ease the acute housing shortage. Legislator and former security chief Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee took pity on him and advised him not to "comment if he is not familiar with the background", like having to seek approval from the central government and the Central Military Commission to take back any barracks.
The administration of Leung Chun-ying may be inept. But being besieged on all sides and with a democratic reform fight ahead, even Leung must know that developing country parks, the taboo of social taboos in Hong Kong, would make the row over national education child's play.
Our parks are safe - for now.