Time to give kuk an urbanisation deal

The Heung Yee Kuk wants the so-called small-house policy to be the subject of an interpretation of the Basic Law by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee. But the best course is to let the courts decide

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 July, 2018, 9:13pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 July, 2018, 4:56am

Hong Kong’s urbanites have long had the July 1 march every year to vent their spleen. It now looks like our villagers will have their own annual New Territories Day in July to fume at the government, too.

The Heung Yee Kuk, the power base that represents rural interests, has been railing against the government’s alleged failure to protect the traditional rights of villagers. Translation: the government has failed to shut up critics of the so-called small-house policy, which allows every indigenous male villager to a plot of land to build a three-storey village house of 700 sq ft for each floor, in a registered village.

Well, that’s hardly a small house, at least by local standards. The kuk now wants the central government to intervene on behalf of villagers with another interpretation of the Basic Law by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee.

The kuk is worried by a judicial review being launched to determine the validity of the “small house” policy. It has long maintained “small house” is a traditional right protected under the Basic Law. Critics like yours truly think it’s no more than a colonial administrative measure long past its use-by date.

There was a time when the central government would protect powerful vested interests such as the big local developers and the kuk in the belief that their support was essential during the transition to mainland rule.

That era is long gone. While the Hong Kong government may still be beholden to the kuk, neither it nor Beijing would be stupid enough to allow a Basic Law interpretation just for the kuk.

Hong Kong rural leaders call for Beijing to interpret Basic Law to keep home-building rights

The best course for everyone, I believe, is to let the courts decide. If it rules in favour of the kuk and villagers, let them keep their “small house” right.

If not, the government should compensate them for the loss of a long-standing entitlement. Let them build taller houses, even buildings, for more villagers to live in a single block. Pay others monetarily by market prices.

However, all their right to compensation would end in 2047, when the 50-year limit on “one country, two systems” expires.

In return, villagers would give up all their land entitlements. No more land would be allocated for them while the government would put the entire New Territories under urban planning and development.

We have always compensated those affected by urban renewal. Think of this as urbanisation that’s long overdue.