Pandora's box in the making

There are two figures that can particularly spook Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying - 85,000 and 17,000.

Monday, September 19, 2016

There are two figures that can particularly spook Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying - 85,000 and 17,000.

The target to build 85,000 housing units a year that he had helped former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa set for the SAR turned out to be disastrous, but Leung survived it, although Tung didn't.

But today, CY is caught in a quagmire after setting for himself the target to build 17,000 public housing flats in Wang Chau. Will he overcome it?

The accusation that Leung had colluded with a powerful landlord there and knuckled under his demands at the expense of the government's housing plan may be legally unsound, but it's certainly politically damaging.

Developments in the past few days were colossal. A daily newspaper critical of Leung cited a classified document and revealed the government had engaged with rural leaders in Wang Chau via "soft lobbying."

That saw the administration change its plan. Instead of building 17,000 units on a sprawl of land used for parking, it decided to build only 4,000 units on a green belt occupied by three non- indigenous villages.

Between the "lobbying" incidents, local thugs turned out in force to back Leung outside a public forum, roughing up protesters. It was a very ugly scene indeed.

At the weekend after a lengthy delay, the Chief Executive's Office conceded there existed an interdepartmental task force as reported, led by CY himself. Legislator- elect Eddie Chu Hoi-dick - now under police protection after threats had him fearing for his personal safety - said it was a trade-off and pointed his finger at Leung.

Some questions have arisen. Why did the chief executive break with protocol to personally lead the group, while it's normally a job for the chief secretary or a minister? More importantly, was there a trade-off?

Perhaps Leung can answer the first question readily enough. In 2013, when the soft-lobbying took place, it was difficult to find land for housing, and the search would be effective if he led the group.

But was there a trade off? Even Chu must admit it would be difficult - if not impossible - to prove the connection if it's ever argued in court.

But everyone in political circles know Leung suffers from political mysophobia. If Chu hadn't queried why the original promise of 17,000 units has become 4,000, would CY have disclosed as much information as he has today?

Even Yuen Long District Council members only found out about the 4,000 units recently. There was no further mention of the 17,000 units originally announced - until Chu blew the whistle.

Leung can't blame his skeptics. It's a Pandora's box, that, once opened, will release all the evil.

In the twists and turns, it's further discovered part of the area originally earmarked for the housing project is indeed government land illegally occupied for storage use. How can the authorities convince the public it's easier to bulldoze the villages than recovering that site?

If there was a trade-off, this would be totally unacceptable. The script presented so far is far from perfect.