22 October 2016
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (second from right) is flanked by Financial Secretary John Tsang (right) and Secretary for Transport and Housing Anthony Cheung at a press conference on the Wang Chau housing project on Wednesday. Photos: HKEJ
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (second from right) is flanked by Financial Secretary John Tsang (right) and Secretary for Transport and Housing Anthony Cheung at a press conference on the Wang Chau housing project on Wednesday. Photos: HKEJ

Stand up to the rural bullies

It is a relatively well known fact of Hong Kong life that two sets of rules apply when it comes to the law.

The first set of rules is for the “Great Unwashed”, that means you and me.

The second set is for the rural chiefs and their acolytes who enjoy unique privileges not just in application of the law but also access to the centers of power.

Matters have come to a head with a growing storm of allegations over how Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying connived with rural strongmen over the now infamous Yuen Long district public housing project in Wang Chau.

Related to this are death threats against newly elected legislator Eddie Chu Hoi-dick who is effectively leading the campaign against the abuse of power by the Heung Yee Kuk.

Arrests of low-level thugs alleged to be responsible for these threats have been made but the police say they have no proof of anyone being responsible for giving them their orders.

As the storm grows the ugly face of violence has claimed another victim in Wang Chau village.

Mr. Leung, meanwhile, is facing growing incredulity over his claims that he did not secretly collude with members of the Ping Shan Rural Committee to accommodate the interests of local rural chiefs by moving the public housing project from a brownfield site to a smaller location, involving the destruction of three villages.

He claims that this would merely be stage one of the much shrunken project, yet, in a civil service that lives and dies by paperwork, he cannot produce a shred of written evidence to support this claim.

Nor can he explain why the chief executive has involved himself so directly in this local matter, why so many meetings were held with rural chiefs and why other local interested parties were not consulted and why he made a rather pathetic attempt to deflect blame for this debacle onto his chief secretary and financial secretary and the housing department.

There is something very strange about Leung Chun-ying, who increasingly seems to live in a world of his own where, for example, he believes he emerged triumphant from the recent Legco election and where he seriously believed he could put this matter to rest by holding a press conference.

Holding press conferences is no big deal for other government leaders but it is for the CE who rarely agrees to encounters with the media of this kind, preferring to either make a few remarks before disappearing into a meeting or to be interviewed by sympathetic individual journalists.

However, on this occasion, he held a press conference flanked by a bevy of officials, most notably Financial Secretary John Tsang, who sat there displaying all the enthusiasm of someone forced to eat their own vomit.

The atmospherics of this debacle help to illustrate the depths to which mis-government has sunk during the Leung administration.

Joseph Wong Wing-ping, the former secretary for the civil service, someone who clearly knows what he is talking about, has detailed how the CE rides roughshod over established procedures and practices in the administration, not to make the machine work better but simply to serve his personal interests.

In the Wang Chau debacle Leung was busy keeping the powerful rural bosses on his side because he knows they have the ear of his bosses in Beijing (although even the folks up North are reported to be getting fed up with the self-serving whining of the Heung Yee Kuk).

Because he has few allies he cannot afford to loose those he has.

The Kuk, of course, are masters in the role of influence peddling and protecting their own interests and thus have no trouble playing the game with the CE.

The Kuk’s greatest success was to secure a land giveaway to so-called indigenous male village residents, a system that has now been so widely abused that no one can seriously argue that it even meets its original objectives.

However, it quite obvious why those who are entitled to this windfall want to protect that entitlement even though there is not enough land available for this purpose.

More importantly this amazing gift to these powerful interests has nurtured a sense of entitlement that stretches into other areas.

Meanwhile, selective application of the law is rife in the New Territories.

As a rural area resident I am acutely aware of this and watch with constant dismay how the Lands Department, in particular, goes about its business.

If an ordinary person is suspected of infringing, for example, a government land lease with an illegal structure, they can expect the department to act even if the matter in question is quite trivial.

If, however, a village chief or another rural powerbroker embarks on quite widespread illegal development or occupation of land or destruction of the environment, Lands Department officials develop instant myopia and, even when these matters are brought to their attention, they do nothing.

As it happens this is precisely what’s going on in Wang Chau but even now the Lands Department does nothing.

The rules that apply to everyone else simply are not applied to powerful rural interests.

To be fair to Mr. Leung the two-rule policy did not begin under his watch, indeed it was effectively initiated by the former colonial administration which was also far too timid to take on the power of the rural bosses.

However, this cannot continue: two sets of rules undermine the overall rule of law to a major extent. 

Like all bullies the Kuk and their friends need to be confronted and when they are let’s see what the overwhelming majority of the people living in the rural areas have to say.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author

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