Donald Tsang

‘I could have done better’: Hong Kong former chief executive Donald Tsang reflects on his housing policies

Tsang, who is facing charges of misconduct over the renting of a penthouse in Shenzhen, concedes that he should have developed more land during his time in office

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 September, 2016, 3:52pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 September, 2016, 9:07pm

Former Hong Kong chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen admitted he should have developed more land during his seven years in office from 2005 to 2012, but denied that a volatile property market and limited housing supply were the result of his housing policies.

Tsang said his administration tightened land sales in a bid to halt slumping property prices, which fell 60 to 70 per cent for medium-sized homes in the wake of the Asian financial crisis in 1997.

“I could have done better,” he said. “I could have stopped land sales but also proactively developed new land,” Tsang told local newspaper am730 in an interview.

“But if I had done it that way, there would be people [asking] ‘why develop them when no one was buying them’. So I put more effort into economic recovery.”

AS IT HAPPENED: Former Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang bailed by court on misconduct charges over luxury flat lease

Tsang’s housing and land policies were in stark contrast to those of his successor, Leung Chun-ying, who has sought to boost supply to ease high home prices. Leung also reversed Tsang’s policy of suspending the construction of subsidised housing.

Responding to charges by academics and housing industry experts that Hong Kong was still suffering from a housing shortage as a result of halting the building of subsidised housing and suspending government land auctions, Tsang said: “I thought those measures were right at the time. People were scared.”

Tsang said new land development had become a “bottleneck” for housing policies, and it was the biggest challenge facing Leung.

Tsang said he faced opposition to a number of measures to increase land supply ranging from levelling hills, reclaiming land, developing greenbelt land and building higher residential buildings.

Donald Tsang misconduct trial set for January next year

He said resistance from different interested parties, including environmentalists and representatives of local communities, had made any attempt to increase housing supply difficult.

The former top official, who stepped down more than four years ago, said he was very open to criticism of his administration.

“Looking at things with hindsight, every policy has its pros and cons. You have to accept criticism. Some may not be right or accurate, but when the public criticises you, you have to accept it.”

Tsang also spoke about his close ally, former chief secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan, who is now in jail for corruption, saying: “I pray for him every day.” Hui was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison.

“He is my lifelong good friend,” Tsang said.

Tsang, 71,who has been charged with two counts of misconduct in public office related to a plan to rent a three-storey penthouse in Shenzhen, will face trial next January.