Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying on Tuesday came to the defence of his embattled development minister Paul Chan Mo-po, saying Chan had met all the requirements in declaring interest in an agricultural plot.
Chan is facing calls to resign after a media exposé forced him to admit his family’s interest in farmland that lies within a government new town development project. The minister in charge of the project had not disclosed this interest until an Apple Daily report on Monday.
Before attending an Executive Council meeting on Tuesday, Leung spoke for the first time on the matter.
Asked if Chan should remain in his post, the chief executive came to his minister’s defence, saying Chan had met the requirements under the present declaration system.
“Mr Chan has fully complied with the requirements to declare interest under our system,” Leung said.
Leung did reply to a question as to why he did not disclose Chan’s link to the land. But he said he had noted suggestions that the declaration system might need expansion, so officials had to declare any interest held by their family members and spouses.
“There is room for improvement in any system. We will review it continuously,” Leung said.
Chan on Monday admitted that his wife formerly had a stake in farmland in Kwu Tong, an area that will be resumed under the development plan, but sold it to her family members last October. Chan said he had told Leung about the land.
But more questions were raised on Tuesday over Chan's role in the plot of land at the centre of controversy.
Chan’s earlier explanation that the land in question was only used for “leisure purpose” by his family was challenged by a villager on Tuesday.
The villager told the Ming Pao Daily he rented the land for six months in 1996 – two years after Chan acquired it – and that Chan claimed to be its owner and signed a rental contract with him.
In Tianjin on Tuesday, Chan admitted that a small portion of the land was rented out for a brief period shortly after he purchased it.
But said he could not remember much detail about the renting, saying it was managed by the family of his wife.
When asked to confirm if he claimed to be the landowner and signed the rental contract, Chan said: “The [villager] was referring to something a long time ago. I actually don’t remember, and don’t have an idea.”
He said the land was rented out “at the request of villagers” and “at a low price”.
Also on Tuesday, members of the League of Social Democrats and the Democratic Party lodged complaints against Chan with the Independent Commission Against Corruption at ICAC headquarters in North Point.