The government must step up vigilance and enforcement actions to curb abuses of its housing concessions to indigenous villagers in the New Territories, a non-governmental organization said on Thursday, pointing to cases of illegal sales of the co-called small-house rights.
The Liber Research Community, a non-profit group that focuses on issues related to public policies in Hong Kong, said a study done by it has estimated that thousands of people who got special permits to build houses under the small-house policy (SHP) may have sold the rights secretly to private developers.
Releasing a report on issues related to SHP, a scheme that grants qualified NT inhabitants the right to build their own houses, the NGO said authorities need to get their act together to curb rule violations.
The policy, introduced in 1972, grants male indigenous inhabitants of the New Territories who are 18 and above a one-time right (ding right) in their life to build a small house, commonly known as “ding uk”, subject to government approval. “Ding” refers to male offspring in Chinese.
They can either apply for a free building license to build a small house on their own land at no land premium or obtain a private treaty grant of government land, if available, at a concessionary premium.
According to the NGO, a study conducted over the past year in 642 villages with indigenous inhabitants in the New Territories has shown that more than 42,000 small houses were built under the policy as of December 2017.
However, 9,878 of them, or around 23 percent, were suspected of having been involved in illegal sales of their land rights to developers through secret contracts, it said.
The study revealed most of the suspected illegally sold small houses were situated in Yuen Long, with the number amounting to 4,495 and accounting for around 46 percent of the total. Tai Po and the Northern District ranked second and third, with 1,864 and 1,205, respectively.
Based on the numbers, the group criticized the government of failing to do its job since selling land rights of the small houses had been found illegal by a court.
In 2015, a District Court Judge sentenced a group of indigenous villagers in Sha Tin and a developer to prison for fraud over secret deals to sell land rights, saying doing so to make money is contrary to the aims of SHP.
Wong Shiu-hung, the researcher in charge of the study, said the group used six criteria to judge whether small houses were involved in illegal sales.
The criteria were: whether the houses were developed in a group, located in Village Type Development zones, grouped in three units or more, they were of three levels in height, built with the same designs or architectural styles, and managed like a private housing estate.
Wong admitted there was no solid proof to confirm that 9,878 small houses had really been sold illegally.
That said, the group considered the situation regarding illegal sales as a neglect of the issue by the government for a long time.
It urged authorities to step up the fight to curb illegal practices, through initiatives such as enhancing inspections, tightening scrutiny of applications to build small houses and, in the long run, requiring owners of the houses to declare they will never sell their land rights.
Thomas Chan Chung-ching, the Director of Lands, said it will take some time for the government to study and analyze the report put out by the private non-profit group.
The official reiterated that if any illegal sales of ding rights are uncovered, it will be reported to the law enforcement department for follow-up action.
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