Wednesday, 21 September 2016

More Questions than Answers

What do you see here? Leung speaks to the media, Tsang looks on
This afternoon Hong Kong media descended on the Central Government Complex in Tamar, where everyone waited with baited breath to hear what Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah had to say about the disputed number of flats to be built in Wang Chau in Yuen Long.

While Secretary for Transport and Housing Anthony Cheung Bing-leung and acting Secretary for Development Eric Ma Siu-cheung were also there, everyone was watching the body language between Leung and Tsang, but not much happened.

Leung had said there were plans for 17,000 flats for public rental and home ownership schemes, but that somehow got severely scaled down to 4,000. Why?

Here is a summary of what was basically said during the press conference in chronological order:

Cheung revealed for the first time that the housing department met with the rural leaders four times -- in July and September 2013, and twice in March 2014.

Anthony Cheung speaks to the media in the press conference
In the first two meetings, the rural strongmen strongly opposed the 17,000 flats, and only on March 12, 2014 was the plan of building 4,000 flats discussed.

[So what happened here? How did it get from 17,000 to 4,000? What was exactly said in those meetings, particularly on the March 12, 2014?]

Leung denied caving into the rural leaders, stressing that housing was a top priority for his administration. He added that Hong Kong's social problems stemmed from land shortages and his government would not stop finding land to develop.

[We don't need to find more land, we need to redevelop more brownfield sites, and the one in Wang Chau has a parking lot run by one of the rural strongmen who has refused to concede it to the government.]

Then both Leung and Cheung denied taking part in lobbying for the Wang Chau project, that it was the job of technocrats. Cheung also said that feasibility studies would be done on the second and third phases of Wang Chau (following the theory that the 4,000 flats were the first phase), and that the flats would be completed would be 2026-27.

[So we are still going ahead with kicking out residents from the three villages to make way for the 4,000 flats? Why can't we use that brownfield site for 17,000 flats instead?]

Pan-democrats and localists aren't impressed
When Cheung was asked by the media why district councillors did not know Wang Chau would be developed in stages, he just replied that documents already mentioned that they were discussing the first phase and that the remaining parts were an ongoing study.

[Officials seem to use the phrase "ongoing study" alot...]

Meanwhile Director of Housing Stanley Ying Yiu-hong (who is under Cheung) dismissed the suggestion that the public were not consulted before relocating the residents of three villages where the 4,000 flats will be built.

"We value public opinion, but it cannot replace our professional analysis," Ying said. "To implement stage one, we went through [four] procedures: consulting rural leaders, consulting Yuen Long District Council and publicizing the relevant documents, consulting the town planning board where people submitted their petition and we discussed them and the project was gazetted."

[Did Ying really say that? So you the public can tell us your opinion, but we won't listen to it anyway. What kind of attitude is that?]

Whenever Tsang spoke, it was to deny there were any tensions between him and his boss and that he had minimal involvement in the discussions...

By the end of the hour-long press conference, Leung got teary eyed saying, "I have to thank my colleagues because it was a toiling task for them, to every little achievement." He said the Wang Chau plan "is a good opportunity to show the government's determination, and the difficulties faced by it in boosting housing supply".

Then he abruptly got up and left to go to the airport to greet Hong Kong's Paralympic team.

So where does this leave us? The government is trying to give united answers to questions, but we have even more queries, with the crucial ones not even addressed, particularly why 17,000 flats dropped to 4,000 and what was said during these meetings with the rural leaders.

The pan-democrats and localists weren't impressed either and plan to grill the government soon after they are sworn in on October 1.

Is this the issue that will break the camel's back?

More importantly how does Beijing see how Leung is handling the situation? Are Chinese officials shaking their heads and wondering what their alternatives are, or do they think Leung's tearing up was a nice ending to get some sympathy points?

Stay tuned.

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