Wang Chau housing saga

Hong Kong government seeks legal advice on leak of confidential data on contentious housing project

Lawmakers slam decision to impose three-month ban on engineering giant Arup from bidding for government contracts, saying criminal offence may be involved

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 November, 2016, 4:54pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 November, 2016, 11:06pm

Hong Kong’s Development Bureau is seeking legal advice on whether a government-commissioned consultancy illegally leaked official data to a private developer involved in a project in Wang Chau in Yuen Long district.

The private development was proposed to be next to a site set aside for a controversial public housing project.

The revelation came after authorities slapped a three-month ban on engineering giant Arup from bidding on government projects after it was found to have breached a confidentiality contract.

Lawmakers criticised the government for being too lenient and demanded an explanation from officials on why the punishment was not stricter.

Pan-democrat lawmaker Raymond Chan Chi-chuen asked the Development Bureau if it had considered reporting the incident to the police as it could also be a criminal offence.

“This isn’t a matter of poor performance or being technically incompetent; it’s a matter of whether they broke the law,” Chan said at a meeting with government officials and Wang Chau village residents yesterday.

He pointed out that Arup could be in violation of the Official Secrets Ordinance, which regulates the unauthorised receipt and disclosure of official information.

In response, principal assistant secretary for planning Ivan Chung Man-kit said it was currently seeking legal advice on the issue before taking any action.

Undersecretary for Development Eric Ma Siu-cheung had said on November 15 that it had not found anything that warranted a criminal investigation.

Barrister Carter Chim Ting-Cheong said it would be difficult for Arup to be prosecuted given high threshold required in the ordinance. “The prosecution would need to prove that what they did with the information was prejudicial to the safety or interests of Hong Kong or PRC ... and in this case, it is likely the court would give a narrow interpretation of it,” Chim said.

The Civil Engineering and Development Department commissioned Arup in March to carry out an infrastructure design study for Wang Chau.

Arup was later accused of disclosing confidential data in a separate application to the Town Planning Board on behalf of New World Development for the construction of a private residential development in Wing Ning Tsuen in Wang Chau.

Data relating to Wang Chau’s projected population and job figures – information privy only to government departments for research purposes – was included in New World Development’s proposal to the board last year to rezone a green belt site.

The bureau said such data was derived from various planning assumptions so it was not readily available to the public.

Speaking at the same meeting, village residents set to be displaced by the public housing project slammed the government for keeping them in the dark.

“We were not told anything until they suddenly came into our homes one day and said the government was going to take back our land. I think this is absolutely terrifying. Where are you going to ask a family of 10 to live?” one resident said.

Another emotional resident said: “We spent our hard-earned money to build our house with our own hands, brick by brick. Are you going to treat us just like rubbish and throw us out?”