Heung Yee Kuk rural body aims to spruce up image with videos hailing role of HK’s indigenous villagers in city’s success

23-Apr-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:38 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong’s powerful rural body has released a trio of short videos in a publicity blitz about the contributions of indigenous villagers to the success of the city, highlighting what is perceived as unfair treatment under the government’s land policy.

The online campaign, meant to burnish the reputation of the Heung Yee Kuk, coincided with mounting controversies over villagers’ so-called small-house rights following a recent court ruling.

The three-part series, with running times of between 2 1/2 minutes and four minutes each, were uploaded to the Facebook page of the kuk, a government-recognised body that represents the interests of New Territories villagers. The clips are also available on YouTube.

Dr Yau Wing-kwong, a co-opted member of the kuk who is also in charge of the video trilogy, said: “We hope to set the record straight. There are many misunderstandings surrounding the small-house policy and rural affairs.

“We have done a lot of research and we present the objective facts. We hope to promote public understanding of rural affairs as well as the kuk’s role and work. It is not our intention to use the project as a tool to bargain for more rights.”

He also said he hoped that the messages could reach out to more young people.

The production is bilingual, with Chinese versions already available. The first two parts have been adapted in English, and a version for the third is in the pipeline.

The first video, titled “New Territories Indigenous Housing”, centres on the controversial small-house policy.

Implemented in 1972, the policy entitles adult male descendants of indigenous people in the New Territories to build a three-storey house of 700 sq ft per floor. The policy has faced criticism for being discriminatory and prone to abuse, and is seen as unfair in a city starved of space.

The High Court ruled this month that government trading or granting of public land to villagers to build small houses was unconstitutional. While acknowledging the entitlement to build a house existed as a traditional right under the Basic Law, the court said it only applied on private rural land already owned by villagers.

In the video, the kuk argues that, rather than a special privilege, villagers actually have their building rights abridged under the policy, because before its introduction they were free to build houses on their land without restriction.

The second video, titled “HK Indigenous Villagers’ Frustrations”, centres on the “sacrifices” villagers have made “for the benefit of all Hong Kong residents”, such as surrendering land to the government to make way for reservoirs or new town developments since the 1960s.

The video also touches on the controversial country park policy under which villagers’ land is put under development restrictions “sporadically without proper consultation and compensation”. The voice-over narration also reads: “Would you ever open up your apartment’s living room for public leisure use? I wouldn’t.”

The last and longest of the three parts wraps up the kuk’s role and contributions to society in preserving cultural heritage such as the Cheung Chau Bun Festival, as well as the funding of school-building projects. It also states that the kuk is “democratically elected”.

Chan Shung-fai, former Ta Kwu Ling rural committee chair and now a permanent adviser to the kuk, said a campaign to brush up the image of the body was long overdue. “It is a right step for the kuk to take the lead in raising public awareness and heading public discussion about small-house rights.”

He however added that it was too little too late, now that the issue had been taken to court.

Vocal rural affairs critic Stanley Ho Wai-hong, a Labour Party activist who is also an indigenous villager from Ko Tong in Tai Po, was not so impressed. He said: “The voices of ordinary indigenous villagers are still unheard. The production presents only one side of the story, and issues are presented from the perspectives of the rich, powerful rural leaders.”

Ho also criticised the rural committees as lacking transparency and effectively denying villagers’ participation in rural affairs.



Category: Hong Kong

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