Henry Tang's offer to seal unauthorised basement rejected

Buildings chief rejects plan to seal basement; lawmakers accuse officials of favouring Leung

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2013, 5:28am

The buildings chief has rejected a suggestion by failed chief executive candidate Henry Tang Ying-yen that he seal his huge unauthorised basement with a brick wall - a proposal seen as a barb aimed at Tang's successful rival, Leung Chun-ying.

"We would only accept proposals that would make it very hard [for owners] to re-enter the sealed space," Director of Buildings Au Choi-kai told legislators yesterday. "Building a brick wall is just unacceptable."

Tang said on Friday that he had formally suggested to the department that he should wall off the 2,250 sq ft basement, which was discovered during his election campaign last February and used as an issue by Leung.

Leung admitted after the election that he had built a brick wall to seal a smaller, 320 sq ft illegal basement of his own at around the same time he announced his candidacy.

At a meeting of the Legislative Council's development panel yesterday that discussed whether preferential treatment was given to Leung, Au said building a wall was unacceptable for both Leung and Tang.

Options to seal the space included filling it with soil or building structural frames inside to make it unusable. Au added that Leung had submitted a proposal to fill in a space below his car park, which the department had accepted. The work had been completed and was awaiting inspection by the department, Au said, without referring to the 320 sq ft basement.

Au's response failed to convince lawmakers, who insisted the department had favoured Leung by not conducting a criminal investigation against him.

Tang said in a radio programme last week that the department was being unfair to him by spending months on a detailed investigation at his house in Kowloon Tong while making only brief checks at Leung's houses on The Peak.

Au said no evidence had shown Leung or any authorised professionals had submitted a false building plan, as in Tang's case, which warranted a criminal investigation.

"We saw pictures in media reports about Tang's basement showing the bar bending was incompatible with the building plan. There was also a construction plan covering a basement," he said. "Substantial information has shown that authorised persons could be involved."

Asked why Leung did not receive the same treatment, Au said it would be seen as disruption of a person's life and waste of public money if they started an investigation without firm evidence. He added that the on-site investigation of Tang's case had been completed. A report would be submitted to the Secretary for Justice for possible prosecution when the investigation ended.

While pan-democratic lawmakers urged Au to make public how Leung had refilled the space under the car park and why he did not reply to the department's request for information about the brick wall earlier, Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po said the department's civil servants should not have to work under political pressure.