Rich and powerful must not be allowed to abuse land laws
Former top civil servant and businessmen among those who encroached on public land to build luxury homes – and got away with it for decades
The public is right to feel dismayed after another case of land abuse was exposed. What sets this incident apart from others is the scale of the abuse and the background of the people involved. Pressure is growing on the government to prove that all such abuses will be handled without fear or favour.
It has to be asked how a former squatter area on the Shek O waterfront became luxurious residences for the rich and famous without government intervention for 30 years. Among those involved are a former top labour official and three businessmen.
The retired civil servant bought a squatter hut in the 1980s and was aware that it was on government land. But he denied breaking the law.
That it took the media to unearth the abuse says a lot about how little effort is put into enforcing the relevant laws. An initial probe by the government found that the site had undergone unauthorised development. What’s more disturbing, however, is the suggestion that land officials were aware of the abuse but took no action because of the people involved.
The revelation came amid growing perception that officials, celebrities and politicians are given preferential treatment when it comes to public services or law enforcement. Development minister Paul Chan Mo-po said there was no question of not enforcing the law because of someone’s background. The lands chief also sought to dispel the impression that squatter land could be easily turned into luxury residences, saying there were rules governing land use changes.
The government has made a good start by swiftly demolishing the unauthorised structures at the site over the past few days. But public doubt over selective enforcement can only be cleared by a full investigation. Whoever occupies government land without authorisation is liable to a fine of HK$500,000 and six months in jail under the law. Officials need to seriously follow up the matter and prove that abuse will not be tolerated. They should also take the opportunity to do a stocktaking of squatter sites and go after those who have breached the law.