You give them an inch, they want a foot. The government has given New Territories villagers an extra half floor as a concession, but the villagers want to keep as many illegally built floors as they please on their multi-storey houses, not just a half-floor enclosure. Nothing less. This is what the Heung Yee Kuk, the largest rural representative body, means by 'negotiating'.
Officials led by Development Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor have bent over backwards to please villagers, so far that they would impress any mainland professional gymnast. The extra half-floor concession means villagers can keep any illegal rooftop enclosure on their three-storey houses, so long as it does not occupy more than half the roof.
But that's not enough. Kuk vice-chairman Daniel Lam Wai-keung explained why: 'If unauthorised structures of three-storey houses that proved to be safe can be tolerated, why isn't it applied to houses having more than three storeys?'
In other words, if officials can tolerate an illegal enclosure or two, why not allow an extra floor or a couple more? The kuk's utter contempt for the law is breathtaking. Its leaders obviously think the law can be negotiated with and enforced - or not - at full official discretion.
The scary thing is they may well be right about our government, which has shown no spine in its dealings with the kuk and the villagers. And we are not even talking about the illegal roadworks, occupation of public land, unauthorised garbage dumping and other environmentally destructive practices prevalent in many villages.
All the rural bodies have formed a united front, demanding the right to break the law with the full acquiescence of the government.
An angry reader, whom I suspect to be associated with the villagers, asks why the city's government tolerates giant 'inflated' estates built by property tycoons, but not small 'inflated' houses built by poor villagers? In fact, that's an excellent argument for going after the tycoons and tightening the rules on flat sales, not to go easy on the villagers, many of whom are anything but poor.