I wouldn’t trust anyone who DOESN’T have an illegal structure

In America, everyone from ex-President Jimmy Carter on down admits to having lusted and thus committed adultery in their heart. In Hong Kong, where as we all know the definition of a queer is someone who prefers sex to money, the equivalent is having an illegal structure.

The list of the great and good with some sort of unauthorized addition to their property is getting ridiculous. We have Chief Executive Donald Tsang, ex-Chief Secretary Henry Tang, Chief Secretary Stephen Lam, Education Secretary Michael Suen, Environment Undersecretary Kitty Poon and Bank of East Asia boss David Li, not to mention my good self. And now, to this weighty directory of wealth, power and good looks we can add Chief Executive-elect CY Leung.

The discovery has provoked extreme wailing, gnashing of teeth and calls for the man to resign before even taking office. In Hong Kong, the presence of unauthorized building work on a home has become, as the saying goes, “an act of baseness, vileness or depravity in the private and social duties which a man owes to his fellowmen, or to society in general, contrary to the accepted and customary rule of right and duty between man and man.” Yet we all have one. (Lots of us, anyway. Mass-produced estate-type apartments are probably less suitable for such illicit renovation, but many older or stand-alone buildings have illegal structures, and many owners don’t even realize it.)

The herd of detractors seeking to skewer CY make the point that it is not the mere presence of a forbidden trellis, unlawful car port roof, proscribed metal gate, prohibited mini-basement and highly criminal garden shed, but the suspected dishonesty. As the Henry-supporting Standard asks: why didn’t he tear them down after the earlier outcries?

There is only one logical answer, and that is that he honestly had no idea they were illegal. Otherwise, not being stupid, and realizing that enemies would use anything they could against him, he would have removed them in a flash, reputation barely grazed. It would insult our intelligence as well as his to suggest that he would think, “Gosh, I really like that highly visible illegal trellis – I think I’ll just keep quiet about it and hope I get away with it.” He knows what an unauthorized basement can lead to, yet he let a police security detail use his. You don’t do that unless you are genuinely oblivious that there is a problem. Unlike Henry’s luxury subterranean palace, CY’s illicit structures are of marginal utility; his family wouldn’t miss them, and they would have been easy to remove.

If his opponents concede that he had nothing to gain by not removing these features, they can argue that he showed a lack of diligence in not checking for them. Indeed, he should have had the place checked over inch by inch with the architectural version of a Geiger counter. These are known unknowns, not unknown unknowns. But what on Earth is really going on when a guy is strung up for having a canopy on a bit of his own property?

RTHK reporter Francis Moriarty said on the radio this morning that it is all about the notion of one law for the elite few, and another for everyone else. That is a major concern in Hong Kong, where well-connected offenders seem to get light treatment, the Chief Executive accepts private jet rides and rich-kid Henry Tang blithely continued to enjoy his undocumented 2,000 square-foot cellar. But when we enter the murky world of trellis-scale illegal structures, we find that the law is applied uniformly. From rich to poor, from the New Territories to Soho, from slums to mansions, we all flout the law – often unwittingly – and we all get away with it. Except now, if you are in the public eye, you don’t, and the ‘one law’ that goes easy is the one that applies to the masses.

CY could usefully come out fighting and start a debate about the fundamental problem. Illegal structures exist because the government does not allow sufficient legal space for the population to live in. So obsessed are officials with this perverse policy of depriving the people of space that a trellis ends up being proof of evil. But sadly and predictably CY is playing along with his persecutors and offering apologies. Equally sadly and predictably, pan-democrats are essentially siding with the property tycoons and bureaucratic forces that hate CY and demanding his immediate impeachment and hanging. (Ex-Monetary Authority boss Joseph Yam and Michael Suen have both done their bit to make life more difficult for the new administration, and today it is the establishment alpha-poodle Ron Arculli’s turn.)

One possible bright side to all this is that CY will be under more pressure than ever to start delivering results soon after taking office and impress the millions who have more pressing worries than his trellis.

(The heinous item in question, for garden-less Hongkongers who are curious.)

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37 Responses to I wouldn’t trust anyone who DOESN’T have an illegal structure

  1. Bela Lugosi says:

    I think the only illegal structure Donald ever had was a slight erection when he inadvertently saw his first junior assistant’s knickers in 1980.

    Ronald Arculli is 98 and looks it.

  2. Joe Blow says:

    Vice-president Richard Nixon once came under fire for accepting the gift of a puppy from a supporter, for his daughters. It resulted in the famous Checkers-speech.

    Why make a fuss about a puppy ?
    Because he was the Veep, potential Prez, and he had to be clean, beyond any doubts. The principle was of overriding concern. And it should be.

    When Henry was hung out to dry, CY kept quiet, knowing full well that he too was in the wrong. He stepped on the principle. In doing so he sent the message that he cannot be trusted. Or maybe he thinks there is one set of rules for him and one set for the rest of us.

    Either way he has failed the people he intends to lead.
    He should go.

  3. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ Joe Blow : Bullshit ! ( unless CY has an IQ even lower than enery, which I think is hardly possible because there is no negative on the IQ scale )

    The whole point of Hemmers today is precisely to make that point .

    It’s quite obvious he had no idea about his illegal structures, what with security police occupying his basement and his trellis etc

    And why all the elevated platforms peering in from outside when he has invited reporters to tour his home inside ( something ET has never yet dared to do )

    On the other hand if you really prefer ET to CY then go ahead and march on 1 July.

    PS : I am in fact clean re illegal structures…. as far as I know ( ! )

  4. pcrghlll says:

    The normally irreproachable Alex Lo got very heated about this in Saturday’s SCMP, saying CY must go. Oh dear.

  5. maugrim says:

    When I first saw the story I was pissed off, but taking in the Hemlockian anlysis, one that has a fair degree of commonsense, I agree. Firstly, he and Tang aren’t on the same scale. A trellis? For crying out loud. These are the sorts of embellishments commonplace to any landowner the world over. I think some perspective is missing. I also sensed that he was truly embarassed by such a ‘gaffe’.

  6. Paranoid says:

    The timing of all this is very suspicious…..

  7. Headache says:

    It’s ok for tycoons to cartelise because they own companies.

    It’s ok for property owners to build whatever they like because they own property.

    It’s ok for those who own nothing or not much to continue enjoying whatever perks that brings.

  8. Real Tax Payer says:

    On a lighter and more amusing note re illegal structures…

    Picking up on Hemmer’s point that mass-produced estate-type apartments are less suitable for illicit constructions, don’t bet on it!!

    I once knew of a case where someone who lived in a very much up-market mid-level prestigious such estate and who had 1500+ sq ft of space was so tight- fisted that he constructed what in effect was a coffin protruding out of his wall in which his amah had to sleep ( his dogs presumably occupying what should have been the amah’s room) . What made it even worse was that the offender was himself the chairman of the building’s IOA .

    In this even the BD decided it must step in and the offender was forced to remove the structure.

  9. Jonathan Stanley says:

    I do wonder about the vagaries of Hong Kong planning law, from them urban concrete rabbit hutches in the sky to HYK mafia Ding-houses. It appears any quasi-permanent structure that isn’t retractable/collapsible, requires planning permission (anyone care to correct me on that?). Aside from taking a very-very long time for them to go through the motions… chances are, you won’t get it. And because the law wasn’t until now enforced, people did them anyway. From ‘armless trellis to 2000+sq.ft. subterranean playpen. And of course the Urban Rape’n’Pillage Authority, along with the Taipan Developers, like to pull a K11 every once in a while. What’s the chance of that thing (amongst others) getting demolished?

  10. PCC says:

    Virtually everyone has an illegal structure in Hong Kong (or wish they did). Enclosed balconies and rooftop apartments are rife. The law is an ass.

  11. Aghast says:

    CY is guilty of exactly the crime that sank his rival.

    And it’s in an area that is exactly his professional speciality.

    He should be treated in exactly the same way as Henry Tang.

    This is pretty obvious. The squirming evasions here are just ugly.

  12. Jonathan Stanley says:

    *blah blah blah* without sin *blah* first stone *blah blah*.

    Is there really anyone, I mean anyone in Hong Kong where you couldn’t dig up some nice juicy dirt and/or air skeletons in some (illegal?) closet that wouldn’t, at some point, be job-ending for a publically-visible high-profile position?

  13. Stephen says:

    Calm down CY is going nowhere. The CCP doesn’t do change (often) or democracy – it took them 2 years to replace Tung after the hapless one had half a million in the street demonstrating.

    Remember Donald started all the leaking of information in desperation to get the tycoons favourite Henry over the line. What he didn’t count on was the laision office revealing Henry’s and his skeletons.

    CY is going to get payback from the “elite” until at least after the legislative elections when finally we should be rid of the likes of David Li. If the ‘elite” don’t like it well lets see what happens to The Kwok’s and former CS Raf Hui in the coming months.

  14. Mary Hinge says:

    “Unlike Henry’s luxury subterranean palace, CY’s illicit structures are of marginal utility; his family wouldn’t miss them, and they would have been easy to remove.”

    But wasn’t one of them also a basement (much smaller than Henry’s but, still, it was big enough to be quite useful and it’s the same sort of transgression)? And didn’t CY say absolutely nothing when Henry’s basement scandal broke? Hmmm… Perhaps this particular Hemlockian analysis lets CY too far off the hook.

  15. Headache says:

    PCC: you, my friend, are the ass.

    High density living creates all sorts of dangers and it is fair and reasonable that building modifications are subject to scrutiny lest they cause damage to life and property.

    Spare us your blithe justifications that “everyone is doing it” just because you’d like to feel better about your own transgressions and a balcony has never collapsed on you personally.

    The even bigger asses are those selfish, self-interested and/or lazy persons who have been in a position to apply the law, or enforce its application, or change it if it needed changing, and instead did sweet FA.

    The most despicable people in all this are the pigs (in the Orwellian sense) who have sought personal power in the name of representing HKers and are now exposed as self-interested, bare-faced liars.

  16. Kant says:

    The price per sq in in CY’s area must be a few hundred dollars, so every little helps, and one more floor than in the plans is a fine bonus.

    The reason the HK people and the pan-Dems today in Legco are angry (not a “complex”) is that the government has little legitimacy. Unable as they are to vote out the liars and the corrupt, they resort to the rare institutions still standing — e.g., the legal system, the press — to voice their protest.

  17. Joe Blow says:

    Maybe John Tsang is going to be the new CEO after all.

  18. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ Joe Blow : oh no, please NO ! Not the whiskered one-who-cannot- do-simple maths.

    Because if so I shall either have to emigrate to China or blow up Duck Folly at Tamar ( or both )

  19. gunlaw says:

    “Everyone’s doing it” is the gang rape defence.

  20. Bela Lugosi says:

    Money and the pursuit of it makes people so very boring. Just look at some of the above.

    Hong Kong is about as interesting as Bournemouth. Hemlock is the Bournemouth Gazette.

    I can’t read this any more. It’s too boring for me.

    Goodbye and I love you all. Yes, it’s a promise.

  21. Will.I.Am says:

    It’s all good and well until Buildings Department comes knocking on your door informing you to remove your “illegal structure” or face stiff penalties. Stiff being to the tune of 200K+ HKD and apparently some kind of daily fine for non-compliance that runs to the tune of 20K…a day! Yes indeed. This unpleasant situation courtesy of a friend who had a neighbor recently move-in and apparently sic Buildings Department on him over a patio extension that had been added almost 10 years previously. The call to Buildings Department was an apparent tit-for-tat over a complaint my friend had made of the neighbor regarding, what else, noise. It’s all good and well Hemmie, and you’re right, the laws are ludicrous, but as with so many other things… they are The Law. And I believe the One Set of Rules for the Rulers and One Set For the Ruled thing is wearing thin. Not?

  22. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ Will.I.Am

    So did Michael Suen, Donald Duck and our dear old friend ET get the BD demand for HK$200 K + HK$20K / day I wonder ? ( maybe that’s why CY is deconstructing ASAP !)

    Now THAT’s one for ICAC to follow up if they didn’t get fined

  23. paul says:

    If you are weathy enough to buy a house on The Peak you would without thinking about it instruct a competent solicitor to act on your purchase. Those instructions would, as a matter of course, include checking for “illegal” structures, that is to say, to make sure that the property you are buying matches what you are being sold. Such a search would discover in about 5 minutes that the property is larger than the authorised plan. Where, the solicitor would ask the vendor, is the planning permission to extend the property?

    Perhaps Mr Leung might be persuaded to reveal what he was told and what enquiries he or his agents made?

    A classic case of one law for the rich and another for the rest of humanity.

    What with the ludicrous SCMP United-Front editor, good luck rule of law in Hong Kong.

  24. I love hypocrisy says:

    Lynch Henry for illegal structure but forgive CY for his and give him a pardon. Yeah your clear biased tame post screams propaganda compared to the rest of your sarcastic blog. have some dignity biglychee

  25. Walter De Havilland says:

    We are seeing a real crisis of governance in Hong Kong. The outgoing CE is under investigation by ICAC, the incoming CE has already lost what little public support he had and today LEGCO came to a halt because our irresponsible legislators opted to stay away. Meanwhile, the civil service is without credible leadership and the rule of law is being compromised by the selective manner of enforcement; an 83 year women living on benefits gets charged and fined for stealing flour from a shop, but the illegal structures of the super rich are a ‘misunderstanding’ and something that is unlikely to be pursued by the authorities.

    Expect people will be out in force this weekend.

  26. Incredulous says:

    Hong Kong is rapidly becoming ungovernable because of all this. I expect there are some in Beijing who might be regretting taking HK back in 1997, in fact they’re probably begging Britain to take it back!

  27. Regislea says:

    With Incredulous, I have for a while held the view that the blatant flouting of the law is potentially a serious problem in terms of Hong Kong society, i.e. forget Legco Chief Executives/Secretaries – I’m talking about HK being a livable place.

    You are perhaps familiar with the idea of zero tolerance. Thus, if a building has a broken window and it is not fixed, the building becomes a vandal target and is quickly rendered uninhabitable. A zero crime tolerance policy in New York cut crime dramatically – yes, I know there were other sociological factors – but the principle seems to stick; if you let a minor infraction – the first broken window go (in the metaphor) – then it can be a fairly rapid decline.

    I see “broken windows” everywhere:

    illegal structures

    illegal parking by the tycoon’s people movers (say what you want about the SCMP, Lai See has had a real go at that one)

    Idling motors, pollution generally (read Chugani on that subject)

    Beggars (why do I have to run the gauntlet every day as I walk to the ferry from IFC – and are those people local? If nor, why are Immigration letting them in? And I do feel sorry for them, of course – but there are other ways of dealing with them other than letting them break the law with apparent immunity)

    The shameful treatment of domestic helpers – not just by their employers, but also by Immigration – my wife was a helper; if anyone wants chapter and verse on this, happy to oblige.

    Price fixing by the oligopolies – rehearsed several times before in this blog

    Rant over – My point is that as long as this is all treated as inconsequential and an acceptable part of the rich fabric of Asia’s World City (pause to laugh up my sleeve at this ludicrous slogan), we’re going downhill.

    And by the way, after 20+ years, I still love the place – which is why this all bothers me so much.

  28. Joe Blow says:

    those hapless, clueless cadres in Beijing must be feeling a migraine coming on.

  29. Regislea says:

    I forgot – one more broken window:

    The escalation of police reactions to demonstrators increasingly strident ways of protesting. Chicken/egg – but the point is it’s escalating. So this weekend could be interesting.

    Those of a certain age may recall a Yes, Prime Minister episode where Hacker – the PM – is in conversation with the government’s senior scientist about when he – the PM – would use the bomb, if the Russians used escalating salami tactics to justify an invasion of Western Germany.

    At what point might the boys in the old PoW barracks come out to restore order?

  30. Joe Blow says:

    so is Hu Jintao going to do a photo-op, handshake moment with CY or not ?

    watch this space……………..

  31. Kan says:

    This bothers me so much. HK is becoming hopeless. You have Beijing grabbing the CE by one arm and the pan-democrats kicking him relentless with the other. Then you have angry villagers with pitchforks who are waiting to stab him the moment he says something they dislike..so he has to look like a saint while the media, tycoons and oppositions keep digging into every aspect of his life, digging up info that even his friends don’t know about…with all the endless filibusting and opposition from all sides, he has to make sure he’d deliver every promise outlined in his platform while looking like a complete saint. This will never happen in reality and HKers will eat him alive at the end..
    with a political climate like this, how can anyone lead HK ..
    and how many competent people will want to do that when they can just cross their legs and lay back at their CEO chair and make more money? After this incident, all I can say is, this place is hopeless…and anyone intelligent enough to possible rescue this place knows it’s a near impossible cause from the get-go. That’s why we have all these con artists posing as politicians because besides money, there’s nothing left.

  32. Peter says:

    HKers really do have a complex, and I am starting to feel they’re not at all ready for democracy.

  33. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ Regislea

    I have to agree with you , sad to say

  34. Kant says:

    The 4 or 5 property-related govt departments are incapable of looking at a Google aerial photo, for instance to see when CY’s structures were added. And the procedure for getting permission for alterations is opaque and cumbersome.

    The emperor has been far away for a century or two, so complaints are the main — in many cases the only — way to get govt organisations to leave their aircon, shutters-drawn havens in Central. And of course many of the complaints are tit-for-tat…

    An interesting piece by Rowse yesterday, suggesting village houses be built only in villages — I saw a run on red paint, could just be coincidence. Better anyway than Zimmerman’s weak conclusion that the kuk should be paid off…

  35. pcatbar says:

    “CY is guilty of exactly the crime that sank his rival.

    And it’s in an area that is exactly his professional speciality.

    He should be treated in exactly the same way as Henry Tang.

    This is pretty obvious. The squirming evasions here are just ugly.”

    In fact only the 2nd of the above 4 sentences from “Aghast” is correct.
    In HT’s case there is a criminal investigation (which may or may not lead to charges) based on the cellar (which it is not disputed the Ts had built) being there before plans (omitting it) were submitted to BD for approval. This is very different from CY’s house which would have had some if not all of the ISs before he bought. If any were added by him they are the external trelis type which though illegal (as he must have known) are small beer. But if this was so then why did CY not remove them when he was taking advantage of the HT scandal during the selection campaign. It smacks of very poor judgment at the least. Either way this blogger’s CY optimism seems misplaced. ‘Not as bad as HT’ should not be sufficient for endorsement!

  36. Will.I.Am says:

    @ Real Tax Payer, June 25, 2012 at 6:03 pm

    Bloody good question. You might have journalism in-the-blood. Just don’t bother applying at the SCMP if you’re a whitey. Apparently White People Need Not Apply.

    For the rest… I agree whole-heartedly. I admire the muckrakers for diligantly stirring the pot… but where’s the follow-up? What’s the state of the Kwok Bros. investigation? Charge them already for cripes sakes.

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