Illegal building works may be ticking time bomb for Carrie Lam

Albert Cheng says the chief secretary must clear perceptions of double standards in tackling unauthorised building works in the New Territories, if she is to make a credible bid for chief executive

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 December, 2016, 4:35pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 December, 2016, 7:02pm

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is poised to inherit the unholy political alliance between the central government’s liaison office and the Chief Executive’s Office in Leung Chun-ying’s time, now that Leung won’t be seeking a second term.

In promoting Lam as a new leader with the same style of governance, the alliance has been trying to manipulate public opinion, aiming to position Lam as the one and only viable option to be the top leader of the Hong Kong SAR.

Lam’s disgraced former boss Rafael Hui Si-yan has praised her as a “tough fighter” but, in fact, her performance in government for the past decade or so has left much to be desired.

Lam staged a visit to Beijing under the pretext of cultural exchange. The pro-government media obligingly created the false impression that she would be received by high officials of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and even national leaders.

People in Hong Kong certainly have no clue whether or not she will get the blessing of the ruling camp led by President Xi Jinping (習近平). Yet, judging from her welcome, she was conspicuously tossed aside. There were no core Chinese officials present or any respectable formal reception for her. The illusion of Lam being the chosen one has been shattered.

Blame Hong Kong’s failures of government on Carrie Lam and Co, not our political system

During her long service in the government, she has created a political time bomb which could turn out to be the biggest hurdle for her campaign – the New Territories small-house policy and the problem of unauthorised building works. Lam was the secretary for development responsible for land policies when Donald Tsang Yam-kuen was at the helm.

After an old building collapsed in Ma Tau Wai in January 2010, she gave the order to clear unauthorised building works in urban areas while virtually turning a blind eye to those in the New Territories. This has caused an absurd situation of “one law, two enforcement standards”.

It is an open secret that New Territories villagers have nurtured a cosy relationship with the pro-establishment camp

The recent Wang Chau public housing development scandal has revealed the long-standing “village-triad” influence on development in rural areas. It is an open secret that New Territories villagers have nurtured a cosy relationship with the pro-establishment camp, which holds a considerable number of votes in the nearly 1,200-member Election Committee which will pick the chief executive.

As development secretary, Lam stirred up a big controversy when she cracked down on the unauthorised building works of notable Hongkongers, one target being former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen, then contesting Leung Chun-ying in the chief executive race. That scandal put paid to Tang’s hopes of becoming Hong Kong’s top leader in 2012.

However, Leung was later found to also have unauthorised building works at his house, and Lam has been criticised for letting him get away with it.

In fact, the problem of such works in the urban areas has yet to be contained, let alone resolved. According to Buildings Department statistics, the backlog of unprocessed removal orders had risen to 52,000 in 2015. The figure does not address the number of subdivided units, most of which are apparently unauthorised building works.

Hong Kong needs to construct practical solutions to solve the problem of illegal structures

The incumbent secretary for development, Paul Chan Mo-po, has also taken a hands-off approach in the New Territories, which has made the villagers and other vested interests even more arrogant. If Lam continues to turn a blind eye, there is a reasonable fear that she might pander to the villagers in order to win the seat of chief executive, since support of the villagers and the pro-establishment camp is a prerequisite for victory.

Lam is the main reason the unauthorised building works problem lingers in the New Territories. As she appears now poised to announce her candidacy for chief executive, it is high time she puts forward a proposal to finish what she started. She owes that to the people of Hong Kong.

The political time bomb of village land issues poses a clear and immediate threat to the prosperity and stability of the city. Without first fixing it, how is the so-called “tough fighter ” even qualified to enter the ring?

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. taipan@albertcheng.hk