Public Eye

A bold idea put forth by a cowering minister

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 September, 2013, 3:48am

Huge housing estates with towering blocks of shoebox flats intruding into our beloved country parks. And where there are such estates, there must also be highways, rail links, shopping malls and felled trees. You get the picture. This shocker of an idea was hurled at us on Sunday by Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po. And what did he do as all hell broke loose? He ran and hid. Then he got his underlings to say he was not speaking for the government but merely reflecting others' ideas. Is this guy for real? Is he too dense to understand that, as a top official, people rightly assume he is speaking for the government? But the idea itself is bold and deserves discussion. Country parks take up 40 per cent of Hong Kong, providing a much-cherished green getaway for our stressed population. But we have pressing housing needs; we must find new land. Mass reclamation is no longer an option after harbour protectionists won a legal fight against that. If Chan is going to ignite as combustible an idea as building in country parks, he should stick around for the fallout. But no. Instead, he retreated into the vast, walled bureaucracy, leaving it to the chief executive and the environment minister to take the heat. Now you know why he is our most unpopular minister.


Face up to the rich and the infamous

And who was it who talked big about putting housing on the Fanling golf courses? Yes, Paul Chan, of course. Then he backtracked into the bunker of bureaucracy when the idea of the government resuming land from the rich gained traction. He lacked the backbone to take a strong leadership role in staring down opposition from the wealthy, and now he talks about taking back country parks instead - parks used by ordinary folks. The first step should be to drive the rich folks out of the Fanling courses for which they pay only HK$1 a year. And to end the outrageous small-house policy that reserves the bulk of our available land for indigenous villagers. But no one in our government dares confront the thuggish rural leaders who threaten mayhem each time there is even the slightest suggestion of ending the policy.


Give up on the man, Mr Chief Executive

And who is it who does not know how much land our country parks take up? Yes, Paul Chan again. He wrote in his blog that country parks took up 70 per cent of our land. Wrong. It is 40 per cent. And this is our development secretary who earns about HK$300,000 a month. Surely we must all pray hard for a miracle if the man entrusted with our development does not even know the basics of our land use. Mr Chief Executive, please dump him. We are not saying this because he stands accused of having once been a slumlord of subdivided flats. Or that New Territories land he owned in an area zoned for new towns qualified him for government compensation. It is because he is a millstone around your neck. And he is way out of his depth in his job.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and broadcaster.