Why won't government put us in the loop on the Loop?

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 November, 2010, 12:00am

Officials yesterday disclosed details of the plan for the 870,000 square metre [Lok Ma Chau Loop], which belongs to Shenzhen but is managed by the Hong Kong government.

SCMP, November 24

Let's get it straight. The Lok Ma Chau Loop does not belong to Shenzhen. It was formed by a straightening of the Shenzhen River in 1997, which took the river to the north from the south side of the loop. The land was then transferred to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

This introduces an obvious question. Why should the city government of Shenzhen be happy to carve out a good-sized piece of its own territory and just give it to Hong Kong? I have never heard of a city government so charitable before.

The question is obviously a good one because it has clearly stumped both the Shenzhen and Hong Kong governments. Neither have ever answered it. In fact, it is so good a question that both have just totally ignored it. Ask and you, too, may learn what the term 'absolute silence' means.

This is regrettable because it may lead ill-intentioned commentators to make irresponsible conjectures. For instance, such people may suggest that the owners of the land are a select group of Shenzhen city fathers who acquired it on the cheap when it was part of Shenzhen, knowing that they intended later to boost its value enormously by making it part of Hong Kong.

This would amount to a classic case of insider trading. People go to jail for that in Hong Kong. I think that even across the border it would fall afoul of anti-corruption laws.

It is thus doubly important that the Shenzhen and Hong Kong governments bring transparency to this matter by revealing the identity of the owners. The integrity of government is at stake. We would not want false rumours to gain currency when the truth can be told.

And it can be told.

Can't it?

Because, yes, there are some difficulties with the irresponsible conjecture. For instance, if you wanted to make a sleazy trade like this, would you expect to wait more than 13 years before you even saw a hope of eventually getting some money from it?

The Lok Ma Chau Loop is still no more than it was in 1997 - several million cubic metres of toxic mud that we have no room to dump elsewhere in Hong Kong and that international law stops us from dumping at sea.

The loop also has no road, sewer, water, or power connections. It is too remote.

Surely, if you were a Shenzhen city father in 1997 you would recognise these difficulties and shy away from such a problematic investment. You wouldn't say that it was just a lot of environmental hooey and the connections can all be plugged into Shenzhen, so let's get on with the job.

You wouldn't say that, would you?

You would also know, wouldn't you, that the government of the New Territories is actually an old villagers association called the Heung Yee Kuk and that you do nothing in the New Territories without paying the Kuk first. You wouldn't be so thick as to ignore the kuk, would you?

Nor, if you were, unhappily, so thick and left it to Donald to mollify the kuk later with other big New Territories sites, would you make your dubious interest in the project so obvious as to demand loudly at least once a year that the Loop be made a heavy industry hub, a light industry hub, a capital of the Pearl River Delta hub or, most recently, a university hub.

That would be a little too brazen, wouldn't it? Surely you would be more subtle than that.

For instance, you would recognise right away, rather than 13 years into the game, that the easiest way of getting some support in Hong Kong is to pitch the university hub idea. You would know that the universities here are all greedier than the kuk but can be had for less.

All you have to do is waft the idea of another campus at them and you have bought them outright. You won't have to pay as much as a cent for it. Donald will pay for it all. He's big on education and he can't back away from it now, which the universities know full well. You would also have known it, and right away, not 13 years too late, if you were a Shenzhen city father thinking up ideas for the Loop.

And then you wouldn't have to go through another round of public consultations, hoping everyone will forget that public opinion in the last round of public consultations was solidly against developing the Loop.

No, the irresponsible conjecture just has to be false, which is why it remains so puzzling that officialdom won't disclose who owns this land.