16th December 1997
To Edward HO,
Chairman of the Panel on Planning , Land & Works,
Provisional Legislative Council.
Dear Mr Ho,
As I have to chair the last plenary session of the Provisional Regional Council in 1997, I shall not be able to attend the meeting of the Panel on Planning, Lands, and Works on 18th December.
Regarding the pilot scheme on contracting out certain land resumption work in the New Territories(Item V of the agenda), I wish to make the following comments for members' consideration.
- The Government estimates that the demand for resumption and clearance of both private and Government land between 1996-97 and 2000-01 will exceed 4000 hectares (ha), whereas the maximum area of land that the Lands Department could resume and clear is at best 2 000 ha. That explains the need for engaging the services of private sector consultants to assist (para 3 of the Finance Committee paper refers) in such work. The Administration indicates that the pilot scheme is necessary because the Government does not have enough manpower. However, as a lot of other large-scale infrastructure projects will commence in future, and that land resumption is a long-term work, why doesn " t the Government expand its establishment right away? It may also hire professional and technical staff with relevant qualifications on contract basis?
- It is understood that, in the proposal, consultants engaged will only assist in processing part of the work in the process of land resumption, and that a lot of the core aspects of work still has to be done by in-house Government officers. In fact, the proposed items of work to be contracted out are not really difficult or ones that require special help. Such items of work include analysing and classifying the pieces of land to be resumed, taking measurement of affected crops and preparing the first drafts of Gazette Notices on land resumption. All such works could be undertaken by Government officers. What is in question is just manpower and workload. Instead of working through such a clumsy and complicated procedure of conducting a pilot scheme of hiring consultants, why doesn " t the Government increase its capacity by employing more officers?
- According to the proposed pilot scheme of hiring consultants, the land involved is just 14.9 ha, but the cost is as much as $17.57 million, ie it takes $1.18 million to process one ha of land. If we calculate on this basis, the consultant fee for resuming 2 000 ha of land will amount to $2.3 billion. Will such a cost be too considerable? Would such an amount of money be more cost effective if it is spent in employing more Government officers? More importantly, has the Government carried out a " value for money " assessment before deciding to launch this pilot scheme?
- The pilot scheme will not be completed before mid-May of the year 2000. By then, the Government will start making an assessment of the scheme. If it proves to be a failure, then the Government will have to resume and clear over 2000 ha of land in the remaining one year - a workload the Government will take five years to absorb. In other words, if the pilot scheme fails, the land resumption project will definitely face substantial delay. And even if it works, the Government will have to urgently engage the services of a large number of consultants for resuming land. As there are no precedents for such a scheme, what kinds of qualifications and conditions should such consultants possess? Has the Government assessed whether there is an adequate supply of qualified consultant firms?
- Presently, the Government will pay compensation to any loss or damage caused to personal properties in the course of resuming land. According to the Finance Committee paper, after engaging the services of consultants, property owners who suffer from such losses and damages may claim against the Government who will then claim against the consultants for the damages caused. This approach is different from the past practice. The Government is evading the responsibility of making compensation. If the consultant firm closes down, the property owners will have nowhere to lodge their claims.
- The proposal of engaging the services of consultants is unprecedented. It represents a major departure from the usual Government policy in this area. However, the Government didn " t conduct any comprehensive consultation with the relevant people and groups. The Government owes the public an explanation for not conducting any consultation.
LAU Wong -fat