Wang Chau housing saga

Hong Kong development minister launches probe into possible breach of confidentiality over Yuen Long leaks

Move is linked to leak of internal government data on behalf of private developer on projected population and employment figures for Wang Chau

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 September, 2016, 10:12pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 September, 2016, 10:45am

Hong Kong’s development minister has launched a probe into whether a government-commissioned consultant breached any confidentiality agreements after internal data on a Wang Chau project was leaked.
The Development Bureau revealed that in March last year the Civil Engineering and Development Department (CEDD) commissioned Arup, a global engineering firm also hired by many private developers, to carry out a study on designing infrastructure in Wang Chau, Yuen Long, as part of the government’s controversial public housing project in the area.

The remarks came a day after Arup was accused of disclosing confidential information on behalf of developer New World Development in its bid to get approval from the Town Planning Board to build a private residential development next to the government’s project in Wang Chau.

“We take this matter very seriously. I have asked my colleagues in the bureau to follow up the matter with the relevant departments – including the CEDD, the Drainage Services Department as well as the Planning Department,” Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po said.

“According to the consultancy contract with the government, there are strict stipulations on declaration of interest and confidentiality. We are in the process of fact-finding. We will take appropriate follow-up action [if there are any irregularities].”

Data on Wang Chau’s projected population and employment figures, information only privy to government departments for research purposes, were included in a New World proposal submitted to the board last July to rezone a green-belt site in Wang Chau for residential development, according to an Apple Daily report on Tuesday.

The CEDD, which noted that Arup was the same consultant hired by it and the Housing Department, responded to the proposal two months later. “The developer and/or Arup should clarify the sources of information obtained ... shown in the assessments which are not known to the general public,” it said.

The data was later removed from three revised submissions to the Town Planning Board, according to documents seen by the Post.

The New World proposal has yet to be approved by the board.

Chan rejected speculation that top officials might have discreetly allowed the consultant to leak the documents to the developer.

Government departments are required to send in a formal request to the Planning Department to obtain data on projections and employment figures.

The Planning Department said it did not provide any figures to any third party organisation on the New World proposal and did not receive any request to do so.

The Development Bureau added that consultants who seriously violated contractual agreements would be temporarily suspended from bidding for government projects.

Stanley Wong Yuen-fai, former vice-chairman of the Town Planning Board, said the issue raised ethical concerns, but the information disclosed was not “critical enough” for the board to approve a rezoning application.
“There is a natural suspicion that this piece of information [that was taken out] is an extract from another report which should be confidential,” Wong said. “Having said that, it’s up to the Planning Department and other technical departments to be the watchdogs, to make sure that all this information provided to the board is the most reliable and accurate.”

Arup did not respond to Post inquiries, while New World said Arup was in charge of handling all documents submitted to the board, and it did not intervene or instruct the firm in obtaining and handling information.
Meanwhile, a government spokesman announced on Wednesday that a feasibility study comprising 16 reports on the Wang Chau public housing project would be submitted to the Legislative Council and later be made public.

Lawmaker-elect Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, who is seeking a Legislative Council inquiry into the Wang Chau public housing project, said it was “ridiculous” that the developer and the consultant had such easy access to internal government data, while he faced obstacles getting more information about Wang Chau.

Chu also said the government should release the feasibility study immediately.

Additional reporting by Ng Kang-chung and Joyce Ng