Playing a game of give and take: Lau Wong-fat

Heung Yee Kuk leader Lau Wong-fat knows how politics works and while he is always ready to make a beneficial deal, he remembers favours

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 July, 2013, 4:51am

Lawmaker Lau Wong-fat is a political dealmaker who has a love-hate relationship with his fellows and followers.

For him, politics has always been a game of give and take, leverage and maximisation of gains.

So when his help is needed, he is always there. When it is about his bottom line, he is also ready to walk away. But he is always happy to keep up a relationship whether a deal succeeds or fails.

Better known to the public as Uncle Fat, the 76-year-old veteran has enjoyed a long career in the city's changing political scene over the past 50 years.

Last week, the head of the Heung Yee Kuk rural body once again made headlines by rejecting a government proposal to expand the Tuen Mun landfill. He led a group of local politicians fighting against it, and forced top officials to face a grilling from the district council.

He called on officials to withdraw the landfill plan. But some believe he is just buying time to make deals with the government.

As Lau put it, "everything in this world is possible". To him, there are foes who can become friends, and last-minute change is never a shame.

Lee Wing-tat, a Democrat and former legislator, said Lau taught them a lesson in politics during the election of the then Regional Council chairman in 1994.

At that time, the council was divided into three factions dominated by the democrats, Lau, and Cheung Yan-lung, a veteran leader and council chairman.

"He came to us to make a deal that he would be elected chairman if, in return, he supported our candidate to become vice-chairman," Lee said.

Lau never delivered on his promise and at the end he sided with Cheung, Lee said. The then Democrats all felt "cheated". And what Uncle Fat got in return was support from Cheung for his bid for election to the legislature.

"Lau is a very smart politician. He can always make a deal as long as it is in his interest. But of course, he will never forget to return a favour," Lee said.

Although he was a "political trader", Lee said Uncle Fat was never a "vengeful" person. "I hit Lau hard over the illegal structure row in the legislature. But he did not take it personally and continued to invite me to lunch and talk," he said.

The Liberal Party also learned a lesson. In the 2008 legislature election, Lau was criticised by his colleagues for refusing to canvass for votes for party veteran Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee.

Instead, he assisted his Heung Yee Kuk compatriot Cheung Hok-ming, who successfully contested the New Territories West constituency seat. Lau subsequently left the party.

A rural leader who has known Lau for decades said Uncle Fat's easy-going character and generous support - effective or symbolic - won him respect among those who worked with him.

"He is bold and brave, and is highly respected in all circles - 'red, black or white'," he said. "Most important of all, he won't snatch your rice bowl and trespass on another's territory."

The leader said circumstances, including the return of Hong Kong to China, had helped make Lau's political career so long and colourful. "He rose inside a triangle between Hong Kong, Britain and China. After 1997, Chinese officials elevated his role and influence," he said.

Lau was selected as the youngest ever village head in 1960. In 1970, he became chairman of the Tuen Mun Rural committee, a role he held until 2011.

He became leader of the Heung Yee Kuk in 1980 and still holds the post, despite challenges from younger leaders.

In 2005, he was awarded the Grand Bauhinia medal by former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa for his public service.

At the peak of his career, in 2009, he was appointed to the Executive Council as a top aide to former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen.

His appointment to Legco reaffirmed his closeness with the government. So it was no surprise he was directly involved in mediating in the recent row which arose among villagers displaced after the resumption of land in Tsoi Yuen Tsuen to build the cross-border rail project.

Lau is an embodiment of interests. He is a big landowner in the New Territories, in particular Tuen Mun and Yuen Long. In 2010 he was embroiled in a conflict of interest row when he failed to declare property transactions to the Executive Council, but this cost him nothing politically.

"Every rural politician, to some extent, has interests related to land. Lau is no exception," the rural leader said. He was not too concerned about this if Lau "always served the New Territories wholeheartedly".

Lau admitted he owned land within the boundary of the proposed Tuen Mun landfill extension. His 2010 declaration of interests showed he had more than 700 plots of land.

"No one knows what he is after. But if the villages close to the landfills have to be relocated, there will be huge interests involved," the rural leader said.


Lau Wong-fat

Born October 1936 in Jiangxi province

Education Ling Shan College

Current posts
1960-present: Lung Kwu Tan village representative
1980-present: Heung Yee Kuk chairman
1991-present: Legislative councillor
2009-2012: Executive councillor

Awards Grand Bauhinia medal