My Take

Hong Kong's housing conundrum: Small-house policy, not indigenous villagers, the real problem

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 November, 2015, 1:08am
UPDATED : Monday, 30 November, 2015, 1:08am

The Independent Commission Against Corruption must be patting itself on the back after obtaining fraud convictions against a developer and 11 indigenous villagers.

The villagers were found to have defrauded the Lands Department by illegally selling their rights to build "small houses" to the developer, David Li Yam-pui, for a total of HK$4.3 million in rewards between 2008 and 2011.

The court also heard that Li conspired with, and offered bribes to, the chairman of the Sha Tin Rural Committee to secure the latter's support for applications to the Lands Department for building licences. The chairman was never charged. A middleman was used to identify suitable villagers. The 11 villagers were persuaded to sell their building rights in Sha Tin.

Li used their names to apply to the Lands Department to build houses but concealed the fact that the villagers had entered deals to transfer or dispose of the land.

I think the villagers were more like fools than fraudsters. The court heard they were each paid between HK$130,000 and HK$250,000. The numbers don't really add up. Perhaps the middleman took a big chunk.

Even if some were to be paid double, say, half a million, it would still be a lot less than their building rights were worth in this crazy property market.

A three-storey village house can fetch on the market HK$9 million to more than HK$20 million, depending on location. Now facing jail, it looks like the "villagers", assuming they really live in the New Territories, have been seriously ripped off.

Has the ICAC looked beyond the surface in this case? Was the middleman identified and if so, why wasn't he or she charged?

One thing from this case is clear, though. Many so-called indigenous villagers may be willing to sell their rights without going through the trouble of having to build a village house.

Instead of occasionally cracking down on such widespread illegal activities, the government should offer subpar prices to buy back those rights and end the small-house policy once and for all.

The massive land amounting to more than 930 hectares currently earmarked for village houses could then be bought back and developed to help meet the city's housing needs.