New kid to get measure of old hand

Editorial | 14 Sep 2017

Development boss Michael Wong Wai- lun may be new to his current role, but he's hardly a novice in the civil service, since he's been in government service since 1985.

Be that as it may, the Development Bureau is surely the most substantial - and likely most complicated - policy role that he's ever taken up. And since his appointment, at least two hot potatoes have been thrown his way.

The issue of government short-term leases, their validity coming under challenge by lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi- dick, is nothing new. When Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po was still development chief in the previous administration, the same issue had been raised, but not properly addressed.

Perhaps it was because Chan, an accountant by profession, didn't possess the civil service training as a public administrator.

In contrast, Wong is giving the issue greater transparency - the key to preventing a matter from evolving into a crisis. Having inherited the matter, he's now promising to make it easier for the public to obtain information on the internet. Although information concerning government land is public, people are currently required to visit local offices to look for it.

Greater transparency may not stop criticism, but can limit speculation and suspicion, both being elements contributing to the formation of a crisis. It's always the correct step to start with.

However, if the lease issue was only a hot potato that was only mildly hot, the other one catapulted to him by Ombudsman Connie Lau Yin-hing is proving to be a sizzler - since Lau is exposing a severe case of foot-dragging in dealing with illegal occupation of government land for more than two decades.

Just the length of time involved - 20 years - evoked anger enough to spark fiery news headlines.

Not surprisingly, five daily newspapers yesterday led with Lau's chastising report.

Wong was implicated again because the Lands Department comes under his policy bureau.

This could prove harder to deal with. Lau, a consumer rights' champion for 40 years, is the kind of person who doesn't give up easily.

Illegal occupation of land, like illegal structures in buildings, typically generates loud public outcries. While Permanent Secretary for Development Bernadette Linn was plain misleading in drawing a parallel between such illegalities and illegal parking, she was nevertheless right in point out that the former always touches raw nerves.

Like illegal structures, the unlawful occupation of government land is a headache that keeps recurring. After the old files are closed, new files open. The current case in Sung Shan San Village, Yuen Long, isn't isolated - there are thousands more.

As the designated authority, the Lands Department is duty-bound to enforce the law. But does Lau know, in calling for a speedy solution, that it's often easier said than done?

If manpower has been a factor, urgency has to be another. A policy of prioritizing the cases is merited.

That being said, it will be equally imprudent to say there's no room for improvement for a system that has been practiced for so many years.

Will Wong be able to succeed where his predecessors have failed?

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