RURAL AFFAIRS
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Basic Law

Let indigenous villagers get low-interest loans to buy land and build small houses, Hong Kong rural leader urges

Heung Yee Kuk vice-chairman floats idea to halt illegal sale of building right, but development secretary non-committal

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 August, 2016, 12:29pm
UPDATED : Friday, 05 August, 2016, 1:08pm

A rural leader in Hong Kong has suggested the government allow low-interest loans to be extended to indigenous villagers who need money to purchase land for building small village houses.

Speaking on an RTHK programme on Friday, Heung Yee Kuk vice-chairman Daniel Lam Wai-keung said such an option could help many villagers who had a right to build small houses but could not afford to buy land and thus felt compelled to sell their right, which was against the law.

Lam’s remarks followed a series of cases in which indigenous villagers sold their right to major developers in the city. Some cases involved high-level government officials.

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Under the government’s small-house policy, each certified male indigenous villager in Hong Kong has the right to build one house within a village or agricultural area at a maximum height of three storeys, with each storey measuring no larger than 700 square feet. The villagers are prohibited from selling the right and can sell the house only five years after it is built. If they wish to sell the house within five years, they need to pay the government a premium.

If the government can help indigenous villagers through low-interest loans, it can solve the livelihood issue
Daniel Lam, Heung Yee Kuk vice-chairman

Lam said many villagers could not afford to borrow money from private finance companies due to high interest rates.

“The right [to build small houses] is not a privilege but a right protected by the Basic Law,” he said. “If the government can help indigenous villagers through low-interest loans, it can solve the livelihood issue.”

But Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po on Thursday told media that when he met kuk chairman Kenneth Lau Ip-keung earlier in the week, he did not express any opinion or stance on the suggestion. Chan said he believed the government should respect history as well as the law in handling small-house issues.

Chan Kim-ching, a Liber Research Community researcher who specialises in land policies, said the Basic Law did not state villagers must enjoy a right to possess land to build small houses and that the entire small-house policy should be reviewed in terms of whether villagers should continue to have a right to build such houses when the rest of Hong Kong faced high property prices.

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“Selling the right is against the law and should be punished by law,” Chan said on the same radio programme. “Why should the government give incentives for you not to commit crimes? Why should Hongkongers use tax money to subsidise others in building houses?”

Lam countered by saying his suggestion was only a preliminary one, and the government could work out more details such as asking banks to offer the loans.

In November last year, 11 indigenous villagers and a developer were convicted of deceiving the government by illegally selling or purchasing the right to build small houses.