Activists walk out of rezoning meeting on Central PLA dock

Boycott of public discussions on planned facility in Central comes after Civic Party lawmaker is allowed only 10 minutes to speak

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 November, 2013, 7:47pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 November, 2013, 2:31pm

The first round of discussions on plans for a military dock on the Central waterfront ended in a walkout on Monday by activists complaining of "procedural violence" and "rape of public opinion".

The boycott of the Town Planning Board meeting came after Civic Party lawmaker Dr Kenneth Chan Ka-lok’s address ended abruptly when his microphone was turned off to enforce a 10-minute time limit for speakers.

The limit was set as the board faced the longest series of discussions in its history on whether the government should hand over rights for a 0.3 hectare strip of public land to the People’s Liberation Army for military use.

A dozen public meetings have been scheduled over the next two months for the hearings.

But Chan said: "These restrictions are utterly irresponsible and unreasonable.… They are an insult to the public’s intelligence and a rape of public opinion."

Describing the cutting off of his speech as “procedural violence” he said he might take legal action.

Winston Chu ka-sun, former chairman of the Society for Protection of the Harbour, said the board had no legal grounds for setting an arbitrary time-limit.

"Entitlement to a fair hearing is a constitutional right and as a quasi-judicial body [the board] must act reasonably and provide a fair hearing," Chu said.

Why should taxpayer money be used to build such a beautiful harbourfront only to have a military base in the middle of it?
Kenneth Chan Ka-lok

Chu, a lawyer, former TPB member and long-time harbour-protection activist, said he had a stack of paperwork two metres high prepared for the hearings and it would be impossible to make his case in 10 minutes.

But board chairman Thomas Chow Tat-ming, who is also permanent secretary for development, said the board had received a record 19,000 written submissions since the public consultation began in February, and it had to use the “special arrangements” out of fairness to all.

Chow said he had informed all 2,000 scheduled speakers of the time limit a week ago.

Activists have been fighting the rezoning plan since it was quietly announced in February.

"Why should taxpayer money be used to build such a beautiful harbourfront only to have a military base in the middle of it?" Chan asked during the hearing.

"It’s not a question of ideology or whether or not we trust the PLA – anyway, we’ve all seen what happened on June 4, 1989 – this is an issue about our rights as citizens."

A 1994 Sino-British exchange of notes, registered with the United Nations a year later, promised that the 14 British military sites in Hong Kong would be handed over to the Chinese military after the 1997 handover.

The document vaguely stipulated that a 150-metre stretch of reclaimed harbour was to be left for construction of a naval dock. But it was not stated how far inland it would extend or whether it would be listed as a military site.

The PLA and the government have repeatedly stated that dock would be accessible to the public when not in military use.

But Chu said that under the Garrison Law, once the military had ownership of the land, there could be no legal public use and Hong Kong’s legal system could not protect anyone who knowingly or unknowingly trespassed.