Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the government will not buy back the Link Real Estate Investment Trust, saying that it was a “very foolish” method that would harm public finance.
Link, which owns many public housing estate malls, has often been criticised for pushing out local shops and replacing them with large chain stores, and failing to provide necessary facilities. Link announced plans last month to sell 17 local shopping centres at public housing estates for HK$23 billion.
Lam said she had strong reservations about the decision to sell the malls to Link more than a decade ago.
“But this commercial decision has been made; there is no turning back,” she said in an interview with RTHK.
“If we say that we are buying it back now in a high-profile way, the price of the asset will rise a lot – it will harm public finance, it will not be beneficial to the public.”
She said that she has not pledged to solve the issue of Link, from her election campaign to her first policy address.
“I even feel a bit helpless,” she said. “It is already a commercial fact. When I was chief secretary, I told Lands Department colleagues that on issues where we still monitor it via land leases, we will not approve [relaxation] requests, otherwise we are helping a tyrant to do evil.”
But she said there are few areas where the government can monitor Link using land leases. The government will build more public markets but it was difficult to find locations, she said.
Pro-democracy lawmaker Eddie Chu told RTHK that it was not appropriate for the government to say that it was “helpless” in solving the issue of Link, as it has a large budget surplus, control over land, and a huge civil service. He said the Lands Department can amend land leases so that the government can give the Housing Authority more commercial space for the benefit of residents.
Sophia So, chair of the Link Watch activist group, told the broadcaster that some of the malls were sold by Link for tens of millions of dollars, which the government has the ability to buy back. She said Lam should not reject the possibility of purchasing the real estate trust and should start a public discussion on when to do so.
Housing price surge
In the interview, when asked about the ever-rising housing prices, Lam said she did not pledge to stop the trend because the rise was caused by multiple issues. She said she only pledged to solve the issue of insufficient supply.
Lam said the government had no means to control the rising prices, as previous measures had failed.
“Some even suspect that our measures forced housing prices to rise – because it was very difficult to buy second-hand flats, the price of new flats kept rising,” she said.
Lam previously said the government will study whether to use the Hong Kong Mortgage Corporation to help people with stable incomes secure a down payment to buy flats. But the financial secretary later said there were no plans to change the mortgage policy.
Lam said the study is still going on.