Hong Kong authorities must use iron fist to end land abuse
Imagine the frustration when the land you have been farming for decades is suddenly piled high with debris. We are not talking about a dramatic movie plot, but the ordeal of 85-year-old Sheung Shui farmer Lau Oi-kiu. In 2009, she was harassed and evicted from the farmland she had been ploughing for over 60 years. This came after she had rejected a purchase offer for development from powerful village head Hau Chi-keung. Thankfully, justice has prevailed, with the High Court last week ordering Hau and a property agent to pay her HK$1.41 million in compensation.
As the judge said in his ruling, it is most disturbing that the pair had blatantly defied the authorities' intervention and adopted a "catch me if you can" attitude. Their action is not just a flagrant violation of individual rights, but also the rule of law. Hau said he might appeal, stressing he was innocent. The compensation amount does not seem over the top considering Lau has lost her means of living. It may even look modest compared to the financial gains from land abuse. She appeared unimpressed about the award, saying she would rather have her land back for farming.
The case made headlines not merely because the old woman was fighting a powerful rural leader. It highlights the enforcement issues with illegal dumping, a common problem in the New Territories.
Lau's case went before the court in 2010, with the agent given an eight-month suspended jail term and a HK$35,000 fine for illegally dumping construction waste on the land. He was also ordered by the government to restore it. But the site is now occupied by a swimming pool and a road leading to a few low-rise housing blocks. The subsequent development raises disturbing questions over compliance and enforcement.
That an 85-year-old villager had to seek redress with a civil claim in court speaks volumes of the inadequacies of the current system. While the court has a role in the administration of justice, so has the executive authority. The stronger the signal of intolerance towards land abuses, the higher the deterrent.