LCQ5: Claims for compensation related to Fung ShuiFollowing is a question by the Hon Wong Sing-chi and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (December 15):
Some residents of Kap Lung Tsuen have lodged claims for compensation with the Government on grounds that the works relating to the construction of the Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL works) will disturb the fung shui of the village. To ensure that the works can commence smoothly and to take into account the concerns of the residents, the Government is considering the requests in question. Regarding the handling of claims for compensation which the residents claim to be related to fung shui (fung shui claims), will the Government inform this Council:
(a) of the respective details of the alleged impact and requests of each fung shui claim received by the authorities in respect of XRL works; whether the authorities have assessed the alleged impact; if they have, of the results of their assessment; if not, the reasons for that; which claims the authorities have, in principle, agreed to follow up, of the reasons for that and the related timetable for public consultation;
(b) of the total number of fung shui claims received by the authorities since 2007, broken down by the type of compensation (i.e. allowance for removal of graves, Tun Fu allowance, construction or refurbishment of village office, construction or repair of Pai Lau or pagoda, construction or repair of temple, worship place or ancestors' grave, construction or refurbishment of rain shelter, construction or widening of road facility as well as landscaping works and others); and among them, of the number of claims that had been approved, the total amount of money involved and, if fung shui masters had been appointed, the amount of consultation fees involved; which government departments were responsible for making the payments; the number of claims that had been rejected and the reasons for rejection; the number of claims that are being processed and the types of compensation involved; and
(c) whether any criteria and guidelines are in place for the authorities to consider fung shui claims lodged by residents, e.g. whether they will take into account the relationship between the adverse impact brought about by the public works and the claim (including appointing fung shui masters to verify the claim), whether the relevant allowances and the costs for the works involved in the provision of or improvement to community facilities will be capped, as well as whether land resumption will be involved in undertaking the compensatory works; if there are no criteria and guidelines, whether the authorities will examine the establishment of a system for vetting and approving such claims; if there are criteria and guidelines, whether there are any guidelines to prevent the claimants from having conflict of interest; whether it is necessary to conduct open tenders for the compensatory works; whether claimants are restricted from bidding for the works, and whether there will be a public consultation process; if there will be such a process, of the details, and whether there are guidelines to prevent the residents concerned from swindling money in the name of fung shui?
In general, claims for compensation arising from the implementation of public works which the residents claim to be related to fung shui can be categorised into Tun Fu allowance, ex-gratia allowance for clearance of graves, kam taps and shrines, and compensatory works. As regards claims for Tun Fu allowance and ex-gratia allowance for clearance of graves, kam taps and shrines, they are lodged by indigenous villages affected by the public works. The claimants must furnish information on how their villages are affected and the extent of impact to substantiate their claims. Since the 1960s, the Government has been paying, based on claims lodged by the claimants, Tun Fu allowance to the affected indigenous villages prior to commencement of construction of public works that involved land acquisition and clearance in the New Territories. The allowance aims to maintain an amicable relation with the villagers for expediting works progress. In addition, Government will consider paying ex-gratia allowance to the indigenous villagers in the New Territories and local fishermen if their graves, kam taps and shrines have to be relocated as a result of public works.
Claims for compensatory works are not common. In general, works departments will strive to minimise impacts on the surrounding environment when implementing public works. However, when it is inevitable that the implementation of works, be it in the urban or rural areas, will cause adverse impacts or inconvenience to the surrounding environment, the public or businesses nearby, the works departments will adopt a people-oriented approach and provide community facilities or improve existing ones, such as Pai Lau, landscaping and resurfacing works according to circumstances, as compensation to mitigate the negative impacts of the public works on the surrounding environment. This is to address public concerns and to maintain an amicable relation with the public for facilitating smooth implementation of works. While some residents may consider these compensatory works to be fung shui related, fung shui is actually not a consideration factor of the departments concerned. There were not many cases of such fung shui compensatory works in the past. As the XRL project enters the construction stage with a large amount of works to be undertaken in the rural areas of the New Territories, there have been more discussions as well as claims for compensatory works recently. These claims are allegedly related to fung shui. But we must point out that fung shui is not a consideration factor of these compensatory works. Our objectives are to alleviate the residents' concerns and to mitigate the negative impacts of the works on the surrounding environment.
My reply to the three parts of Hon Wong's question is as follows:
(a) A total of 17 compensation claims alleged to be fung shui related in respect of the XRL works have been received. Among them, 15 sought for Tun Fu allowance and 14 requested for compensatory works. The claims for Tun Fu allowance will be handled and followed up by the Lands Department based on the established mechanism.
The claims for compensatory works with a total number of over 30 items include reprovisioning of village office cum worship hall in the affected villages, construction of Pai Lau/pagoda/village office cum worship hall, repairing temple/Pai Lau/worship place/ancestors' grave and widening of an existing footbridge. To handle these claims, an inter-departmental working group has been set up with members mainly from the Lands Department, the relevant District Office and the Highways Department who is responsible for the XRL project. If based on preliminary information the working group considers that such claims may be able to address the residents' concerns and mitigate the negative impacts of the works, the Highways Department will carry out further study and assessment, and consult other relevant departments to ascertain the feasibility and impact of the compensatory works. After the feasibility of the compensatory works is confirmed, the Highways Department will post notices to seek the views of nearby villagers, and assess whether the compensatory works will bring benefits or improvements to the communities in the vicinity. Upon completion of the assessment, the Highways Department will report back to the working group for decision on whether the compensatory works shall be implemented.
As mentioned above, among the 17 compensation claims alleged to be fung shui related, 14 cases had requested for compensatory works. The working group is currently following up these 14 cases. Based on preliminary information, the villages involved in these cases are situated close to the XRL alignment. As the compensatory works are still at the early stage of study and assessment, there is no specific timetable for public consultation.
Taking the request of the representative of the indigenous villagers of Kap Lung Tsuen for widening an existing footbridge as an example, the Highways Department must still consult other relevant departments (such as the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, Water Supplies Department and Environmental Protection Department) to ascertain the feasibility of the works notwithstanding that it has already been agreed in principle by the working group for follow-up. After confirming the feasibility of the works, notices will be posted to seek the views of nearby villagers, and assessment will be made on whether the works will bring benefits or improvements to Kap Lung Tsuen as well as the communities in the vicinity. Only after the completion of such assessment would a decision be made on whether the compensatory works shall be implemented.
(b) Excluding the XRL project, the authorities received a total of 66 claims for Tun Fu allowance and two claims for ex-gratia allowance for clearance of graves, kam taps and shrines between 2007 and end of November 2010. As regards the claims for Tun Fu allowance mentioned above, approval was granted to 59 of them involving about $1.24 million. Apart from the 59 approved claims, four claims are being processed. The remaining three claims were rejected. As regards the ex-gratia allowance for clearance of graves, kam taps and shrines, approval was given to a claim which involved about $20,000. The remaining claim was not accepted.
As regards Tun Fu allowance, all claims must be fully justified and a list of itemised costs in respect of Tun Fu ceremonies must be submitted for consideration. Typical itemised costs include fung shui master's fee, Tun Fu master's fee, purchase of joss-papers and sticks, food to be offered in the ceremony etc. In determining the final amount of Tun Fu payment, the reasonableness of the claim with reference to previous similar claims, the distance between the locations of the public works and the villages or sites which fung shui is alleged to be affected, village size and population will be taken into account. The relevant District Officer will also be consulted. The granting of approval of the Tun Fu allowance is also based on established criteria. Each village may only submit one single claim in respect of each public works project. Payment for a claim under $20,000 is approved by the relevant District Lands Officer. Payment between $20,001 and $30,000 has to be approved by the Director of Lands. A claim above $30,000 has to be approved by the Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury. After the ceremony, the village representative is required to submit to the relevant District Lands Office for record an account of expenditure for the Tun Fu ceremony.
Government will consider paying ex-gratia allowance to the indigenous villagers in the New Territories and local fishermen if their graves, kam taps and shrines have to be relocated as a result of public works. Such allowance will be assessed according to standard allowance rates, taking into account the types, sizes as well as building materials of the graves and shrines affected.
Only one fung shui compensatory claim from villagers for the construction of Pai Lau was received between 2007 and end of November 2010. The claim was eventually rejected as there was not sufficient justifications and support in terms of the benefits it may bring to the local community.
(c) In regard to fung shui claims for compensation, I have set out the existing approval mechanism in para (b) for claims for Tun Fu allowance and ex-gratia allowance for graves, kam taps and shrines.
Fung shui claims for compensatory works were not common in the past. Excluding the XRL project, there was only one compensatory claim for Pai Lau received between 2007 and end of November 2010. Therefore, relevant departments currently consider each claim on a case-by-case basis. As mentioned above, the implementation of public works will inevitably impact or cause inconvenience to the local communities at times. Therefore, we seek to protect the local environment, greening as well as the culture and history of the communities during the planning of the works. We will also endeavour to reprovision the community facilities affected as far as possible to minimise the impact of the works on the communities. The above principles are being followed in public works carried out in both the urban and the rural areas. Throughout the process, in conjunction with relevant departments, such as the works department and the District Office, we will discuss details with the local communities as necessary.
As there are quite a number of claims associated with the XRL project and in view of the public's concerns about the compensatory works, the Works Branch of Development Bureau plans to formulate principles and procedures for reference of the departments. These will cover the scope of application, factors for consideration, assessment criteria, project management and tendering procedures, with a view to enhancing operation transparency. Specific details will need to be adjusted to suit individual circumstances of the public works.
To conclude, all three categories of fung shui claims for compensation, i.e. claims for Tun Fu allowance, ex-gratia allowance for graves, kam taps and shrines, and compensatory works, will be processed and monitored under the relevant mechanisms. As such, there will not be any money swindling in the name of fung shui.
Ends/Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Issued at HKT 16:30