A fresh bid by rural patriarchs to escalate pressure on the Leung Chun-ying administration to back their controversial practice of trading their rights to build small villas has backfired. Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po criticised the patriarchs for mixing up the concepts of the sale of village houses and the sale of building rights, stating that “there is no tolerance at all” for using inappropriate means to trade building rights. READ MORE: Hong Kong developer and 11 villagers jailed for deceiving government in rural housing scam Chan was responding to an open letter addressed to him by the Heung Yee Kuk – a body that represents New Territories villagers’ interests – in which the kuk claimed many of the public views against the small house policy were misinformed. It asked the government to state if such a right was protected under the Basic Law and to state whether small houses could be traded or not. Monday’s open letter followed a similar open petition late last month. In the previous petition, the kuk also threatened to seek Beijing’s help to clarify what they were entitled to under the Basic Law. Chan said on Monday: “The trading of small houses and trading of small houses’ building rights are two entirely different matters. Indigenous villagers can request the Lands Department to remove sale restrictions after the construction of particular small houses are completed and upon fulfilment of certain conditions. READ MORE: Time to thoroughly overhaul Hong Kong’s small-house policy and root out those who abuse it “But as far as the right of indigenous villagers is concerned, there is no case of trading off their rights.” The row centres on the jailing of 11 villagers last December for defrauding the Lands Department over the construction of small houses. The villagers were found guilty of illegally selling their rights to build small houses to a developer for HK$4.3 million. Leung Fuk-yuen, a Yuen Long rural leader, argued: “The right to build small houses and the right to trade such rights are mutually dependent. A right is not a right if you can’t exercise it.” The government introduced the small house policy in 1972. It applies only to native New Territories men descended through the male line from the resident of a recognised village in 1898. .