Lands Department responds to media enquiries
In response to media enquiries about the land purchase in Yuen Long by the Assistant Director/Regional 3 of the Lands Department (LandsD), Ms Anita Lam Ka-fun, a spokesman for LandsD gave the following remarks today (August 6):
"On declaration of private investment by civil servants, it is the government's policy to strike the right balance between protecting their right to make private investment and their privacy and maintaining the impartiality and accountability of the civil service to the public. In general, as long as the investment does not constitute any conflict of interest with their official duties, civil servants may make private investment. However, in any circumstances, they must not use confidential/market sensitive information obtained in their official position or in the course of their official duties to make private investment or engage in related activities for their personal or any other persons' benefit.
Generally speaking, the civil servants working with LandsD have the right to make private investment, including property and land transactions, but they must comply with the applicable declaration requirements and avoid any conflict of interest between their investments and official duties.
Ms Lam made a written declaration of a land purchase to the department in April 2012 within seven days of purchase in accordance with the declaration requirements applicable to civil servants of directorate grade. She reported that she and her spouse had bought a site in DD112 Yuen Long at $18 800 000 for their own use and leasing out. She also recorded this investment in the declaration form submitted every two years. In view of her declaration, the department issued a written instruction to Ms Lam requesting her to refrain from taking part in the discussion or decision-making in connection with the government’s actions or recommendations on the above-mentioned land. If any conflict of interest situation arises when she is discharging her duties, Ms Lam is required to report to her supervisor.
According to the above arrangement and the department's instruction, Ms Lam has not handled and cannot handle the application for redevelopment of New Territories exempted houses (NTEHs) which she submitted through her agent to Yuen Long District Office in October 2012. The application is now being processed by the New Territories Action Team, which is under the purview of another Assistant Director of Lands. When the application is submitted in future to Yuen Long District Lands Office for approval according to the established procedure, the department will put in place alternative arrangements to ensure that the applicant's direct subordinate, i.e. Yuen Long District Lands Officer, will not chair the meeting or make the decision concerning the application.
The land use review for Kam Tin South and Pat Heung is conducted by the Planning Department. LandsD is mainly involved in providing comments via its Yuen Long District Lands Office and Railway Development Section. The land purchased by Ms Lam is neither within the scope of the review nor involved in any approved or proposed land resumption plans. The fact that part of the site contains "house" status is not any internal information. According to the existing arrangements, land owners and their representatives can access the cadastral record, "A" Book, at District Lands Offices. When Ms Lam purchased the land, such information had already been stated in the planning application submitted by the former owner in 2009 and the relevant paper is open to public inspection. There is so far no evidence indicating that Ms Lam has made use of any internal information in this land transaction.
We understand that even though our colleague has complied with the declaration requirements and the department has made follow-up arrangements on the declaration, the investment may still raise public concern. We will review whether there is a need to improve the current declaration system, including how to refrain from situations possibly causing negative public perception.
The department examines all applications submitted to it for approval in a fair and impartial manner. Even if Ms Lam's planning application is approved by the Town Planning Board, she is still required to obtain LandsD's approval for the redevelopment. When processing applications for redevelopment of NTEHs, the department would examine the relevant information before deciding whether the application should be approved and the scale of redevelopment to be permitted under the approval."
Ends/Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Issued at HKT 21:37