Four of Hong Kong government’s housing advisers have links with private developers
Land and Development Advisory Committee intended to address concerns about collusion by vetting firms’ applications to build homes on farmland under Carrie Lam’s new ‘land sharing’ scheme
At least four advisers tasked with addressing concerns about collusion by vetting applications from companies to build homes on their own farmland in a government “land sharing” scheme have links with private developers, the Post has found.
This came as Hong Kong’s development minister gave an assurance on Friday that the government would take steps to avoid potential conflicts of interest in the public-private partnership arrangement aimed at easing the housing crisis.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor proposed the scheme in her policy address this week to allow developers to build at a higher density, as long as a certain proportion of the land was set aside for public housing.
The pilot scheme announced on Wednesday was meant as a short-term solution with the aim of freeing up an estimated 1,000 hectares of privately held New Territories farmland.
But the Post has found that the chairman and three non-official members of the body meant to be a gatekeeper for the scheme, the Land and Development Advisory Committee, have links to private developers or own farmland through companies.
Chairman Greg Wong Chak-yan is the director and majority shareholder of his own civil and structural engineering company, with a client list that includes property developers Sino Land, Nan Fung Group and CK Asset Holdings. His wife owns one-fifth of a 40,000 sq ft agricultural plot in Sheung Shui.
Wong said while he understood there was public concern over the issue, they were sticking to the rules.
If there were any applications from developers that his firm had ongoing business with, he said, he would “declare it immediately and would not deal with that specific application”.
His wife “100 per cent will not apply for the pilot scheme”, he promised.
Wong said it was inevitable for some members to be professionals in the industry, given the nature of the committee’s work.
But he declined to say if any of his firm’s ongoing projects involved working with Sun Hung Kai, Henderson Land Development or New World Development, three major developers known for owning massive tracts of farmland in the New Territories.
His wife’s plot of land was “quite small” and was inherited from her father who bought it several decades ago, he added.
Wong also noted the government had yet to formally task the committee with its new vetting role, or to make the exact scope of work clear.
Another member, Douglas Woo Chun-kuen, is the chairman of property developer Wheelock and Co and director of the Real Estate Developers Association’s board of directors.
Wheelock last year proposed to the Town Planning Board a mixed public and private housing development on its 860,000 sq ft plot in Tung Tsz, Tai Po.
Committee member Derrick Pang Yat-bond, CEO of Chun Wo Development Holdings, is also a director of Capital Pacific Properties, a developer which acquired a brownfield site of more than 77,000 sq ft in Ping Che in 2002.
Pang said he would definitely avoid any future discussion related to the brownfield site owned by his company. “The topic is quite sensitive. It’s better to be clear [about any conflict of interest],” he said.
Another member, Joel Chan Cho-sing, is director of P&T Architects & Engineers. The firm’s clients include Sun Hung Kai.
Chan had yet to respond to a request for comment.
Asked how the government would ensure the committee would not favour anyone, Secretary for Development Michael Wong Wai-lun said he would look at improving the declaration of interest system in place.
“When [the committee discusses] specific applications in the future, if any members have direct conflicts of interest, they must declare, and it will be impossible for them to take part in the decision-making process,” Wong said. “There is still some time between now and when we need to submit details [of the land sharing scheme] to the chief executive. We will listen to opinions from different sectors and see if we can do better [to avoid conflicts of interest].”
New People’s Party lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, who has regularly raised concerns about collusion between the government and developers, called for more transparency.
“The committee is heavily filled with people connected to the property sector,” Ip said. “Even with the declaration system, if there is any collusion, they cannot be charged under the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance or with misconduct in public office – it’s hard to hold them accountable.”
To increase transparency, Ip said, the committee should include elected representatives, such as lawmakers, who are “more answerable to the people”.
Democratic Party lawmaker Wu Chi-wai said the pilot scheme would not alleviate concerns of possible collusion, and urged the government to use the Lands Resumption Ordinance to take back sites to build public housing.
Additional reporting by Shirley Zhao