Hear here - test

Hear here - test

THE STORY

We did not threaten officials: village chief

Officer to demolish illegal bridge, paving

By Cheung Chi-fai and Olga Wong

A newly formed illegal track and bridge on government land at a Tai Po village, where officials say they have been denied access amid threats, leads to a private site owned by the village chief.

But owner Leung Pak-keung denied he had made any threats and said the officers were welcome on the site in Shan Liu village - which can only be reached by crossing private land - provided they showed respect to the owners.

Leung spoke yesterday, a day after the Lands Department said its officers had been denied access amid threats of "force and duress" when they tried to get to the site to demolish the illegal structures.

At the same time a lawmaker said it was time the chief secretary took the issue up at a higher level to show there were not "two different sets of laws in the city and the rural areas".

Leung said he and fellow villagers refused officers access through their properties because they had not shown respect by seeking permission in advance. Denying any threats were made, he said they had simply "reminded" the officials to watch out for the village dogs.

He did not deny he was behind construction of the bridge and 15 metres of paved track across a government slope, but he would not say whether he would demolish them as required by lands officials. He said officers were welcome to bring in their machinery to remove the structures provided they made a formal request to owners of the village, which has no permanent residents.

Democratic Party lawmaker Lee Wing-tat said the dispute was a governance problem and warned of a crisis of authority unless top officials stepped in to resolve it. "This is not the first time law enforcement in the New Territories has been obstructed," Lee said. Unless Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen stepped in, "it will seriously damage the authority of the government as people might think there are two different sets of laws in the city and the rural areas".

The Lands Department rejected suggestions that its failure to enforce the law indicated weakness. "We do not agree the government has weak governance in the New Territories," a spokesman said, adding that bollards had already been erected on the government land, and the Tai Po District Office was being consulted on how and when to demolish the bridge.

The Development Bureau, under which the department falls, refused to comment on suggestions of weak governance.

Gary Chan Hak-kan, a Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong lawmaker, said he believed it was a matter of will for the department to enforce the law. "There is always a way for them to enforce a law if they want to," he said.

The department has so far refused to say how and by whom its officers were threatened on April 30 when they tried to inspect the site. It said only that it reported the incident to police but declined to say when. On subsequent visits on May 3 and 5, the officers were accompanied by police.

A police spokesman confirmed officers had assisted some Lands Department operations in May but would not say if police were investigating the report by the lands officers.

Leung said the owners would have allowed the officers to cross their properties if they had been respected and properly asked beforehand. "Being a public officer does not mean you can always have your way," he said. "Would you knock on the door before you entered your mother's room at home? They should learn from their Environmental Protection Department colleagues. They always call a day before."

Leung said the track and bridge were built to give access to a plot of his land that had been leased to friends to become an organic farm. He said he had no plan to build houses on the site.

"The concrete bridge and cement-paved track are necessary since the farmers will be carrying buckets of human waste fertiliser across the river and climbing up the slope. Without these structures, there is a danger the waste will spill into the stream and pollute the water," he said.

He also denied the standoff had anything to do with disputes over the proposed alignment of a sewerage network to be connected to sites for new small houses in the village.

"The sewerage network plan is useless and a waste of money because many villagers say they cannot connect to it," he said.

The Drainage Services Department said it had rejected an alternative network plan proposed by Leung for a third sewer line in the village because it was neither technically feasible nor politically desirable.

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