The government must provide interest-free loans to villagers who need financial help to remove illegal structures on their homes, rural powerbrokers the Heung Yee Kuk demanded yesterday. It was responding to the government's proposal of loans, made earlier this week.
Kuk member Leung Fuk-yuen, who helped organise a protest outside the Legislative Council on Tuesday, described the loan scheme in its present form as 'unfeasible'.
'If they are not interest-free, we will be unable to repay the money,' Leung said at the inauguration of the Kuk's new HK$200 million headquarters in Sha Tin yesterday.
'The idea of relocating affected villagers to public rental housing is equally impossible, because that will tear apart our kinship in the New Territories and violate the Basic Law,' Leung, who is chairman of Shap Pat Heung Rural Committee, said.
He was speaking a day after Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor told lawmakers that the government would launch an enforcement campaign against illegal structures within 12 months, offering accommodation for relocated villagers. She said an existing building-safety loan scheme would provide the money, capped at HK$1 million per house, to residents who face financial difficulty in demolishing illegal structures. The elderly and those who satisfy a means test will receive interest-free aid.
During the meeting on Tuesday, thousands of villagers staged an hour-long rally outside Legco. They called off a march circling the building because of heavy rain. Police said the protest drew 1,700 but the Kuk claimed there were 5,000.
'The downpour was just about right. Otherwise there would have been trouble,' kuk chairman Lau Wong-fat said. 'Loans could be a way out. Both sides could take a step backward.' He rejected the proposed relocation of residents to public rental high-rises, for the same reasons Leung gave. The kuk would continue discussing the issue with the government before opting for a judicial review, he said.
Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, officiating at yesterday's inauguration, said he hoped urban and rural residents would support the enforcement policy. The kuk's new HK$200 million headquarters stands on a 4,200-square-metre site rented from the government for the nominal sum of HK$1,000.