Official in lands row to get new posting

Supervisor who bought farmland in area now under her jurisdiction and next to planned new town is to be transferred within Lands Department

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 August, 2014, 5:28am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 August, 2014, 6:34pm

The senior lands official caught in a conflict-of-interest row over a land purchase is to be moved to a new post, away from the area of controversy, the Lands Department said last night.

The decision follows a public outcry, and the department added that it would handle all complaints in an objective manner. Its statement failed to say whether it would start a disciplinary process or introduce stricter rules for its staff regarding any personal land investments.

Anita Lam Ka-fun, an assistant director at the department who supervises four District Lands Offices, and her surveyor husband Thomas Tang Chiu-man acquired about 8,000 square metres of agricultural land in April 2012 in Yuen Long - one of the districts she supervises.

The purchase came two months after Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah announced in his budget that the government would study the potential for developing the area. And it came two months before she was promoted to her current post from chief estate surveyor.

Two years on and Lam's land in Tsing Tam village now lies just outside the boundary of the area being studied for the planned Kam Tin new town.

The department said Lam had declared her interest within seven days of the land acquisition. As a result, she was instructed not to handle issues involving that site.

Last month, the Town Planning Board's Rural and New Town Planning Committee, of which Lam is an official member, approved the couple's application to build four houses on the land. Lam had declared her interests and was excused from the discussion during the meeting. Lam's husband sits on the Town Planning Appeal Board Panel.

To add to the controversy, it was revealed by Ming Pao yesterday that Lam and her husband had set up a firm called Quantum House Surveyors in 1996. At the time, she was a senior estate surveyor at the Lands Department but did not declare her business interest to the government. The company was closed in 2000.

Company Registry records show that the couple now own a company called Luxcon Investment. The Lands Department has not answered the Post's inquiry about whether Lam has declared this business interest. The company once owned a house in Discovery Bay, Lantau, that was sold for HK$33.8 million in 2010.

According to regulations, civil servants may be asked to drop an investment or be transferred to another post if the supervisor considers an investment conflicts with the civil servant's work.

Philip Tsang Sum, chairman of the Hong Kong Civil Servants General Union, said news of Lam's transfer last night came too late. "Shouldn't it have been done before a conflict arose, instead of afterwards?" he asked.

Former secretary of civil service Joseph Wong Wing-ping suggested lands officials should be required to seek instruction before any purchase.

"Buying land is a huge investment. It's not like buying a flat," he said.