Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po on Tuesday, in his latest attempt to dismiss concerns over a possible conflict of interest, has reiterated that his wife’s family was planning to sell a plot of farmland that falls within a new town development project in the New Territories.
At a Legislative Council special panel meeting, lawmakers continued to grill the embattled minister on his family’s link to the farmland in Kwu Tung North. This came despite Chan’s explanations over the past week and a statement issued by his wife, Frieda Hui Po-ming, on Monday.
Chan would not respond to questions as to whether he would resign, instead he repeated, as he has over the past few days, that he, his wife and his children no longer had any interest in the land.
“I have never had any interest in the Kwu Tung farmland,” he said. “Also as my wife repeated in her statement, all of her interest in the land was sold [to her brother] on October 10 last year.”
“Therefore, we do not need to worry about any potential conflict of interest in our work on future northeast New Territories [projects],” Chan told legislators.
Chan refused to answer questions about how his brother-in-law acquired the money to buy the famland from his wife, calling it a personal matter.
The development secretary is facing calls to step down or have nothing to do with government plans for three new towns in the northeast New Territories following a media exposé about ownership of land by his family.
But Chan also has supporters. Some groups invited to give views on the development proposal at Tuesday’s meeting expressed support for Chan.
A representative from a pro-government group, called the Love China Hong Kong Alliance Cultural Society, said Chan should not be blamed because the price of the farmland in question was “trivial” and it was held by his wife’s family, not Chan himself.
Chan earlier said his wife had held a 37.5 per cent stake in a company that had owned the 18,000 square feet land in the development area since 1994.
His wife sold the stake to her younger brother for HK$2.7 million in October after Chan learnt that the land was earmarked for new town redevelopment which he is now in charge of. Chan said at that time he told his boss Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying about the sale.
The land could fetch up to HK$17 million in government compensation, according to some estimates, if it was taken for use as part of the redevelopment project.
Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, a former Legislative Council president, said on Tuesday the row involving Chan and the redevelopment of the farmland showed that the Leung Chun-ying administration had a problem gaining the public’s trust.
She suggested the chief executive should look at how to improve the government’s transparency and communication with the public.
“I think it is probably the time … to take stocks of what has happened over the past 13 months,” she said.
Leung and his cabinet have been embroiled in a series of controversies since he took office last July.
Fan, now a Hong Kong delegate to the National People’s Congress, declined to comment on whether Chan should resign.
“This is up to Chan and the chief executive and the SAR government. An outsider’s view shouldn’t be taken too seriously,” she said.