Farmer's challenge to development secretary Paul Chan in land row
Olga Wong, Ada Lee and Adrian Wan in Tianjin
The credibility of Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po took a further hit yesterday when a farmer rejected his explanation of how he came to rent out farmland at Kwu Tung North.
The minister was forced to admit his family's interest in the land - which now falls within redevelopment plans for a new town - after a media exposé.
On the second day of the conflict-of-interest row, Chan said in Tianjin he let the farmland "at the request of villagers".
He was attempting to dispel a public impression that he was an investor awaiting profits from the new town development for which he is now responsible. The land in question is zoned for public housing. If resumed by the government, it is estimated to be worth more than HK$17 million.
But a villager farming on the site said it was "definitely not" he who approached Chan. The villager, giving his name only as Chung, said he had grown fruit trees and lived on the land for decades before Chan bought it.
But in 1996, two years after the purchase, Chan asked him to pay rent of HK$60 per six months. "I have farmed there for decades and [Chan] didn't appear until 1996," Chung said.
The revelations led to renewed calls by pan-democratic lawmakers for Chan to resign, a year after he was linked to the rental of subdivided flats.
Chan admitted on Monday that he and his wife, Frieda Hui Po-ming, had been directors of a company that owned 18,000 sq ft of farmland.
Chan was a director of the company until April 2011 and Hui until October last year. But it wasn't until two months after he was appointed to head the Development Bureau in July last year that he found out the farmland was in the redevelopment area.
Chung went to the site on Monday showing a rent receipt with Chan's signature, saying the minister was the owner who rented him the land. Chung said the contract lasted less than a year and Chan did not come to collect any rent after that.
"All trees were planted by my family, not Chan," he said.
Chan said he rented out the land through the company. "Our children were small 19 years ago … we did farm there when the land was bought," he added.
His activities have been referred to the Independent Commission Against Corruption and the Ombudsman by pan-democrats, while he faces calls from the pro-government camp for more explanation.
But two Exco members said Chan had declared the size and location of land at a recent Exco meeting.
And Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and his top aides gave him their backing. "He has fully complied with the declaration system," Leung said.