SDEV speaks to the media

Following is the transcript of remarks by the Secretary for Development, Mr Paul Chan, at a media session after attending a radio programme today (July 28):
Reporter: Regarding the issue of indigenous villagers' rights, given all the reports, do you think the officials are overly lax in terms of dealing with illegal selling of indigenous villagers' rights before the construction of such small houses?

Secretary for Development: I would not be able to comment on individual cases, but I am sure the Lands Department will work with the relevant enforcement agencies to follow up the matter. As to the right to sell small houses, as I have previously pointed out, upon completion of construction and on fulfilment of relevant conditions, small houses could be transferred. But before the completion, there is no way for them to transfer the development right.

Reporter: Are officials overly lax in terms of dealing with the New Territories indigenous villagers' rights in this regard?
Secretary for Development: I think it is inappropriate at this stage to draw that conclusion. As I said, the Lands Department will work with the relevant enforcement agencies in their investigation of the matter. Depending on the outcome of possible investigations, we will look at our procedures. We do not think it is appropriate to draw such a conclusion at this juncture.

Reporter: With regards to inspection of industrial buildings' fire safety, it is not the first time that the Government is conducting such large scale inspections in the past 10 years, but there are still people living in conditions with fire hazards. How can the Government do better? Is there more that you can do, let's say to have more firemen to inspect, or the Buildings Department to step up further, or to have stricter penalties to deter people from living in such fire hazardous conditions?

Secretary for Development: So far the Buildings Department has inspected about a hundred of such industrial buildings. There are 29 prosecution cases, and more than 160 notices have been issued, asking the landlords to rectify those illegal structures. Taking stock of the experience of the effect of the enforcement, we do think that there are a number of areas that we can further strengthen, for example, criminalising those operators of sub-divided residential flats in industrial buildings. Another possible action is to delegate the authority to the Buildings Department's officers of certain ranks to enable them to gain entry into those premises.

Reporter: I understand that, but both of these measures take time. Are you concerned that some people accuse the Government of just putting on a show by having inspections of such a large scale?

Secretary for Development: Previously, if officers of the Buildings Department wanted to go into these sub-divided units to gather evidence, they came across people not co-operating. They had to go through court procedures to gain entry. This takes time. What we have in mind is to improve it, to see whether it is possible for us to delegate authority to certain ranks of Buildings Department's officers, so that time can be saved, and make it easier and quicker for them to gather evidence to institute prosecutions. On the other hand, the Lands Department will further strengthen the enforcement action by vesting the relevant properties into the hands the Government. So there are a number of options that we are considering to tackle this issue.

Reporter: Are you concerned that these inspections are just a show and things won't change?

Secretary for Development: We are trying very hard to tackle this issue. We are whole-heartedly behind all these actions to put things right.

(Please also refer to the Chinese portion of the transcript.)

Ends/Thursday, July 28, 2016
Issued at HKT 18:43