Validity of granting land-lease terms beyond June 2047 at issue

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 June, 2015, 4:43pm
UPDATED : Friday, 26 June, 2015, 4:43pm

Real estate is perhaps the most important asset in Hong Kong for developers as well as individual homeowners.

Land ownership is, therefore, the bedrock of the city's prosperity and stability.

Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it was essentially the forthcoming expiry of the 99-year lease on the New Territories that prompted the British government to start the negotiation with Beijing over the future of Hong Kong. It led to the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984.

Since the handover of sovereignty of Hong Kong to China in 1997, the city's government has been granting new leases of land, whether by way of auction, tender or land exchange, each for a 50-year term.

It follows that most, if not all, of the new government leases granted after the establishment of the SAR government will go beyond June 2047.

Article 5 of the Basic Law provides that the socialist system and policies shall not be practised in Hong Kong, and that the previous capitalist system and way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years. Some take that 50-year period as the "shelf life" of the mini-constitution, which will then end in June 2047.

If this argument stands, one has to question if the city's government, whose power comes from the Basic Law, has the authority to grant land leases that extend beyond June 2047. At the very least, pending a proper assurance from the central authority, the validity of the lease terms of those new land grants that run beyond June 2047 is in doubt.

The certainty of the land-lease term is essential to maintain public confidence in buying property in Hong Kong, and the long-term prosperity and stability of the city. Now that around one-third of this 50-year period enshrined in the Basic Law has elapsed, it is high time the government kicked off a community-wide discussion on how to remove any unnecessary ambiguity in the lease term issue.

Possible options may include making appropriate amendments to the Basic Law and obtaining a written assurance from the central government.

Michael Ko, Tsing Yi