The government said it will follow up seriously on reports that a piece of government land in Tai Tam Bay has been illegally occupied for over 30 years by a former official and wealthy businessmen.
Speaking to media on Thursday, Secretary for Development Paul Chan Mo-po said the government was aware of the allegations, which also involved construction work on squatter huts. He said he has instructed the Lands Department to follow up.
Any changes to squatter huts after 1982 must be approved by the Lands Department, and any expansion or change of use of squatter huts is illegal.
The former official, 73-year-old Mak Sai-yiu, was previously the Assistant Commissioner for Labour.
A Lands Department official, who declined to be named, alleged that the Department had long been aware of the occupation of government land in Tung Ah Pui Village, but had not taken action because of the identities of residents.
Chan said he could see no evidence for such an accusation.
“We will follow up and handle [the matter] seriously according to the law, no matter who is involved, what background they are from, or what occupation they had in the past,” he said.
Chan added that generally big changes in structure and materials cannot be made in registered squatter huts.
Lee Wing-tat, a former lawmaker and the chairman of Landwatch, said the problem lies in the lack of government authority.
Using the giant waste dump near Tin Shui Wai as an example, Lee said the government had stated it would follow up on the matter seriously three months ago, but the waste dump has yet to be removed.
“These are rich people or people with power… they realised that the Lands Department could not enforce the law,” Lee said. “They just do whatever they like – this is not news to me.”
Director of Lands Bernadette Linn Hon-ho said on a Commercial Radio programme on Friday that the investigation will be conducted by its headquarters, and will cover the whole Shek O area, where many squatter huts were registered.
She said she will look into whether Lands Department officials had long been aware of the occupation.
“There has constantly been reports on [government land occupation] in the Shek O area… I am sure we have done some work on individual cases, but whether we covered the said squatter huts, it will have to wait for the full investigation,” she said.
Linn said there was no evidence showing that Lands Department officials were afraid of any one with a privileged background.
Anyone illegally occupying government land could be subject to a maximum HK$500,000 fine and six months of imprisonment.
If illegal activity was found, she said the department will allow time for the people involved to remove illegal structures before considering prosecution.
“It is already a punishment to demolish [the additional structure], as there may be investments involved in the construction,” she said.
Linn added that the government has been researching whether there are means to follow up on such incidents other than prosecution, including civil law suits.