This coming weekend China’s President Hu Jintao will be in Hong Kong. He is here to celebrate the 15th anniversary of this nation’s return to China. Hu will also swear in a new government led by Chief Executive-elect CY Leung. But Hu Jintao will want to get a hotel room. There’s too much noise as demolition work is carried out at CY Leung’s private residence.
You may recall in February this year the surreal storm that surrounded Henry Tang, then a candidate for Chief Executive. He was found to have a 2,500 square foot “underground palace” below his home in Kowloon (see my earlier post). The controversy surrounding this structure – and Tang’s poor public relations management of the issue – contributed to Tang’s drop in the polls and his failure to secure the top spot. The media scrum camped outside his home became the fodder for on-line jokes, such as the image below.
Well the cranes are back. This time they’re at a different house.
CY Leung was found to have a series of illegal additions to his home on The Peak. The six amendments range from a pergola for plants to a covered car park. All were in place when Leung bought the home. The problem is he stated unequivocally that he did not have any illegal structures during the election campaign.
Today media and demolition crews pour over the site. Gone are the various illegal additions. Gone, too, is the trustworthiness of the incoming Chief Executive. CY Leung has apologised three times in the past five days.
Illegal structures have been a hot political topic, not only during the debate. In the New Territories (where I live), many village houses have roof-top awnings or to-the-floor glass balcony walls. These and many other illegal renovations can be spotted in every village across the Territory.
What makes them illegal? Mainly these structures were added after a building approval was granted. The approved plans are all that can be constructed. Modifications and additions require further approval. Over the years the lack of enforcement means many have slowly, slowly expanded. Some are simple add-ons. Others have built entire floors.
CY Leung said in his campaign that he was going to enforce building codes across Hong Kong. That led to a bitter debate with the regional political authorities in the New Territories. Hang Yee Kuk – usually referred to as ‘the Kuk’ – has been defending the rights of villagers to retain these structures. An immediate abolition would cause chaos as house after house would require dismantling or even total demolition. There isn’t spare housing or access to builders to achieve all these amendments immediately.
So this week CY Leung was found with his hand in the metaphorical cookie jar. He was calling for an end to illegal structures everywhere else but hadn’t checked his own residence. His election campaign probably fueled the fire of Henry Tang’s illegal structure brouhaha. No doubt Tang or the Kuk are playing a role in Leung’s current difficulties.
Amazingly Leung studied surveying in a diploma course. He’s eagerly trying to explain that his degree in estate surveying is different from building surveying. Few are paying attention to the distinction. Most assume he wasn’t paying attention in school – or to the contract when he bought the house.
The impropriety has led the third candidate for the Chief Executive to call for CY Leung’s removal even before he is installed. Democratic Party Chairman Albert Ho-Chun-yan is seeking redress through the courts. Ho wants Leung’s election negated as he wasn’t truthful in the campaign. (Note to politicians everywhere: Be truthful in campaigns!)
Right now the biggest threat is to CY Leung’s credibility. He is constantly apologising. Newspapers have placed this story on the front page for days now. It made weekend reading and carries on today. Any crisis that continues to generate front page coverage for more than a day is very serious. It’s not been properly managed at the outset.
In all likelihood CY Leung will go on to be appointed as Chief Executive this weekend. The damage to Hong Kong would be too great if he were to be replaced at short notice. Yet Leung enters the role with a backlog of credibility issues. He would be well-served to stop pursuing illegal structures in the New Territories and instead focus on larger issues challenging the Hong Kong people, from income disparity to housing to an overall economic slowdown.
And CY Leung should get his house in order. Finally.