The Heung Yee Kuk rural concern group has published an open letter to Secretary for Development Chan Mo-po asking the government to clarify its position on the Small House Policy. It has demanded a definitive answer as to whether transferring their rights under the controversial policy is a criminal offence.

The letter was issued by the “1127” concern group, which was established by the Heung Yee Kuk following a District Council’s decision last November to convict 11 indigenous villagers from Sha Tin of illegally transferring their land rights to developers. It said that the court ruling had baffled indigenous villagers and worried non-indigenous villagers who held rights under the Small House Policy, RTHK reported.

small house policy

Under the Small House Policy, male indigenous villagers who are descendants of a male line from a recognised village in the New Territories may apply for building a small house on their own land at zero premium, or on public land through a private treaty grant, once during their lifetime. This right is non-transferable.

See More: Explainer: Hong Kong’s divisive Small House Policy

The group asked the Development Bureau to clarify whether rights under the Small House Policy are protected under Article 40 of the Basic Law. It also asked whether houses obtained under the policy must be inhabited by rights-holders themselves, preventing them from being transferred for profit, or whether male indigenous villagers have an absolute say in disposing of their rights.

A small house. File
A small house. File

The group also said in the letter that it was disappointed in a Lands Department statement published on December 7 last year which it said “overturned” a previous agreement. In 2007, the then-secretary for development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-Ngor wrote to the Heung Yee Kuk saying that villagers suspected of transferring their rights would not face criminal prosecution. The Kuk had viewed the letter as reassurance from the government that villagers would only face civil lawsuits.

open letter
The open letter to Secretary for Development Chan Mo-po. Photo: Stand News.

The concern group is now asking the government to promise not to make changes to the Small House Policy – or, if changes are made, to consult them first.

Aside from the conviction of the 11 indigenous villagers last November, the High Court also rejected a claim brought by five Sheung Shui indigenous villagers against a law firm representing a developer in a land dispute last December. In his judgment, Judge Anthony To Kwai-fung said that the villagers were just as guilty as the developer, and that they should not be given favourable treatment.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.