(Photography: Alex Leung)
Hong Kong 2030 Plus, the government’s population projection-based long-term town planning blueprint intended to meet housing and economic needs beyond 2030, is now being presented to Legislative Council’s Panel on Development for debate. It envisioned “a more liveable place with larger flats and more public space” amongst others which for an average Hong Konger is far beyond imagination today. Unfortunately it will still be an illusion by 2030 and will always be, so long as the current land supply structure remain untouched.
The Development Bureau aims to construct two new towns in north New Territories and reclaim vast waters on the east shore of Lantau Island for a metropolis, essentially an Atlantis. The plan says with much confidence that the manoeuvre will have 1,700 hectares of land ready, more than the 1,200 hectares vacuum to be filled to reach the projected 4,800 hectares. Well, these projects may supply land of such measurement, albeit at the cost of environmental damage and relocation of residents living in the identified areas. However, as soon as the land is ready, it will go into the same cycle of becoming profit-making and exploitation machines of the property companies and be subjected to abuse by the small house policy, backed by the Heung Yee Kuk.
Under the current tide no blueprint can effectively generate enough land supply to ease the stark inequality people of Hong Kong are faced in this world’s least affordable city, nor will punishing consumers by repeatedly playing stamp duty card do any good. If nothing genuine is constructed and if the foundation for construction is vested interest, business-government collusion, labour exploitation and gender discrimination no fair market environment can ever be resulted in no matter how much taxes buyers have to pay.
Democratic socialism is the solution. Its principal best combines individual freedom with social equality. Its practice, however, requires enormous political will and sacrifice to realise. In a word, we must break up the property developers and abolish the Kuk.
The big three property companies, namely Sun Hung Kai, Henderson and Cheung Kong, which have accumulatively amassed over 760 hectares of land, are the Satans behind our much distorted home price. Monopoly gives them arbitrary power to inflate prices at will. Collusion with the establishment bestows them vast land at lower cost and longer holding period. Loosely regulated transactions and huge loopholes in appointing sales agents further worsen affordability. Together with other smaller developers, these property developers hoard well in access of 1,000 hectares of land. Whatever new land supply source the government identifies and however much new public housing is constructed, as long as these developers stay in place no genuine ease can ever be felt by average home buyers and small businesses.
To increase competition, reduce land hoarding and collusion with government and enhance transparency in transaction it is time now to legislate new ordinance for identifying certain property companies and breaking them up. If they are too big to fall then they are too big to exist.
Comprehensive anti-trust legislation needs to be brought up to curb new monopolies and exploitation. It is a difficult and possibly risky endeavour but will have to be done to do justice to 7.3 million Hong Kong citizens.
The Kuk, the all-powerful power broker of “indigenous” New Territories villagers, is a de fecto land hoarder of over 930 hectares under the small house policy. A God father-like protector, the Kuk is the only statutory body to recognise eligibility for “small” houses, which on paper is male descendants of inhabitants who had land in New Territories before Britain’s northward expansion beyond the Boundary Street in 1898 but in reality is often tangled with corruption and nepotism. Worse still, the Kuk has been either keeping a blank eye on or indeed breeding illegal occupation of brownfiled land, degraded agricultural land of government ownership, and even to the point of thuggishly threatening advocates who are fighting to right this historical wrong.
Whatever the cost is, we must abolish the Kuk and abolish it now. Only then can new towns construction in the vast New Territories be meaningful to the ordinary and decent people. Land freed up will also be a huge potential for truly realising “a more liveable place with larger flats and more public space”.
Democratic socialism should not only be confined within such dimensions but breaking up the property developers and abolishing the Kuk must be the first step toward reducing horrendous inequality. Working 50 hours a week and living in subdivided flats is not who we are.
I will give my all to this righteous cause and see it realised before too long.