The government started its crackdown against illegal building work in the New Territories yesterday, but there were no officials to be seen in villages rumoured to be on the list.
The Buildings Department is to send removal orders to owners of village houses that seriously breach the standard three-storey format.
However, under a new system, villagers who own homes with lower-risk illegal structures must now register with the department within the next six months and appoint a professional to carry out regular inspections of the add-ons. Once registered, these structures can be kept for at least the next five years.
The government has targeted nine villages in nine districts of the New Territories in its crackdown, but it has not named the villages.
Fuk Hing Tsuen in Yuen Long was expected to be among the first to be inspected as it is the source of a high number of complaints, village representative Wong Lai-sum said. But residents did not see any officers yesterday.
Although the government promised to offer loans to people who were forced to demolish structures, village representative Choi Kin-sun said removal costs would remain a burden for them. He said the government should also rehouse affected people.
Yuen Long is the district where the government received the highest number of complaints about illegal structures last year - 1,162 out of a total of 3,503.
As of February 14, some 866 removal orders previously issued to owners of village houses in the New Territories had not been complied with by their expiry date. Sixty-nine of these were four years overdue.
On the other hand, the new registration system could also prove to be ineffective, as rural powerhouses refuse to endorse it.
Leung Fuk-yuen, chairman of Shap Pat Heung Rural Committee, said villagers would remain united and few would register their illegal structures.
'The government should maintain a harmonious society,' Leung said. 'If at the beginning someone talks about removing houses, is that a good start?'
Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, chairman of Tuen Mun Rural Committee and president of the Law Society, called on villagers to boycott registration. 'It is absurd for a law enforcer to offer a grace period for rule-breakers who offer to sign up,' he said. 'And it is illogical to ask someone to admit to law-breaking behaviour with no guarantee of what will happen after the grace period.'
Heung Yee Kuk vice-chairman Cheung Hok-ming said the kuk would not advise villagers on whether or not they should register.
However, villagers who received removal orders could take their cases to the Rural Committee, he said. Their cases could be taken to court as the kuk was preparing a judicial review against the government.