Albert Lai of Professional Commons poses a simple question on the radio this morning: do we still have a government in the New Territories? This follows the Audit Commission’s finding that a commercial petting farm has been operating illegally on part of Tai Lam Country Park for a mere 18 years, and the Lands Department has done nothing – other than send out less-than-terrifying warning letters. In what must rank as one of the least surprising discoveries of the week, the Standard reports that one of the owners is a leading member of indigenous villagers’ lobby/mafia, the Heung Yee Kuk.
Some might wonder if the district land officials are on the take; maybe their kids get to feed goats and ride horses for free. Lai guesses that the bureaucrats have essentially chosen to avoid a tough life. While this says something about the civil servants, it also tells us much about the Kuk. These are the same people who threaten violence and bloodshed if they are forced to remove illegal extensions to their homes. Successive governments – and especially the outgoing administration – have ignored or tolerated all manner of illicit land-related activity by New Territories residents for so long that the villagers can hardly be blamed for believing the law does not apply to them. Lai’s question on the radio wasn’t facetious.
Remember the Fairview Park private road affair? New Territories interests running some sort of truck park demanded the right for heavy vehicles to use a children-friendly residential development’s private road. Rather than enforce the law and protect the neighbourhood, officials encouraged local families to give in to the Heung Yee Kuk’s self-styled ‘intermediation’ and let the trucks roll through.
To answer Lai’s question: yes we do still have a government in the New Territories – it’s called the Heung Yee Kuk. Next Chief Executive CY Leung might be able to cut the property tycoons down to size, but the aborigines are a different matter.
From the depressing to the ludicrous: the auditors have also been looking at Youth Square. Although it sounds like something in Pyongyang, it is in fact the solar system’s most expensive young folk’s centre – a monument to the time when Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa began his long, tragic descent into insane, panic-stricken fiscal profligacy. Maybe flinging HK$771 million at a ‘focal point for youth development activities’ was worth a shot. It’s hard to say, but just maybe some kid hanging around in the place might have suddenly thought up a cure for cancer or something.
Instead, we ended up with an ugly curved glass building with a square patch of some mystery green stuff in a courtyard. What it does is something of a mystery – it seems to comprise some shops with a theatre and a hostel, but not necessarily in that order. The Audit Commission, being a bunch of wimps, recommends that Youth Square perform its role, whatever it is, better, set targets and at least use the facilities. The correct recommendation would be ‘knock it down and replace it with something people actually want’. A petting farm, say.