Development secretary Paul Chan denies conflict of interest over farmland
Olga Wong and Johnny Tam
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High-ranking public posts require a more stringent declaration system, government observers say, after a media exposé forced the development chief to admit his family's interest in an agricultural plot that falls within redevelopment plans for a new town.
The land in question, in Kwu Tung North, is zoned for public housing under the plans. If resumed by the government, it is estimated to be worth more than HK$17 million.
Yesterday, the farmland landed Secretary for Development Chan Mo-po in a fresh credibility crisis, facing renewed calls from pan-democratic lawmakers to resign, a year after he was linked to the rental of subdivided flats.
Chan admitted he personally acquired 20,000 sq ft of agricultural land in Kwu Tung North 19 years ago and remained a director of the acquiring company, Statement Industries, until April 2011.
His wife Frieda Hui Po-ming was one of three shareholders of Statement Industries, until she sold her 37.5 per cent stake in October to family members.
Chan's belated disclosure, coming after the Apple Daily revelation on the same day, highlighted the deficiency of the declaration system, former secretary for the civil service Joseph Wong Wing-ping warned.
Wong said the system should cover the family of officials, including the spouse.
His views were echoed by University of Hong Kong law lecturer Eric Cheung Tat-ming, who said the public could not monitor the transfer of interests between a couple without stricter declaration rules.
Current rules require an executive councillor to declare the spouse's land and property only if the councillor has a beneficial interest in the assets. Political appointees need only disclose their spouse's name and occupation.
Chan said he had no "beneficial interest" in the land and that his wife had sold her shares.
But Wong said it was unclear whether Chan really no longer had an interest. "One can argue legally that Chan could benefit if he inherits his wife's fortune in future," he said
Chan said he had told the chief executive about the land. Lawmakers accused him of hiding information and failing to explain why he knew of the possible resumption only in September, about two months after he had taken office.