Extract from the minutes of the
Finance Committee meeting
on 28 November 1997

Item No. 6 - FCR(97-98)69

New Subhead "Pilot scheme on contracting out certain land resumption work in the New Territories"

22.A member raised objection to the proposal for engaging consultants to undertake land resumption work in the New Territories. He pointed out that land resumption work required professional and local knowledge, and cast doubt on the consultants' competence and experience in dealing with such complicated issues as grave removal and " fung shui " . Apart from legal, planning and surveying expertise, the consultants would also need to request private landowners to produce proof on land rights and this would infringe on the landowners' privacy. Such duties should more appropriately be carried out by civil servants. As the pilot scheme would only be completed in May 2000 whereupon an assessment would be conducted by the Administration, the member also questioned the effectiveness of the scheme in alleviating the workload of the Lands Department in resuming the projected 4 000 hectares of land required.

23.The member made reference to the Resumption Working Group of the Secretary of Planning, Environment and Lands - Heung Yee Kuk Liaison Meeting, which was formed over ten years ago. The Working Group served as the consultative forum for land resumption matters in the New Territories, and the member was surprised that the proposal, which sought to delegate the authority on land resumption to private firms and represented a major policy change, was not referred to the Working Group for discussion beforehand.

24.In response, the Chief Estate Surveyor of Lands Department (CES/LD) explained that the proposal arose from the time-consuming process in land resumption, and the aim was to farm out those elements which were not sensitive. The consultants would only act as advisers, and the only functions to be contracted out were certain aspects of the preparatory work currently undertaken by the Lands Department. He clarified that functions carried out by staff of the Regional Services Department on grave removal and those by the Highways and the Agriculture and Fisheries Departments relating to the resumption process would not be contracted out. In addition, sensitive documents such as those on compensation matters would continue to be signed by staff of the District Land Offices.

25.As regards consultation with the Working Group, CES/LD advised that the scope of the Working Group covered resumption policy and rates of compensation. As the proposal entailed the transfer of a limited amount of land acquisition work to an outside organisation under the direct supervision of the Lands Department, no change in policy was involved and consultation was hence not undertaken.

26.The member referred to the discussion on the subject at the meeting of the Planning, Lands and Works Panel on 20 May 1997, and enquired about the outcome of members' concern relating to possible complaints against consultants. The Principal Assistant Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands advised that Panel members' concern at the time was primarily with the relationship between the Government, affected landowners and the consultants. The Administration had confirmed in paragraph 5 of the discussion paper that the relationship between the Government and affected landowners would not change, and that the powers and obligations of the consultants had been clearly defined.

27.Some members echoed their reservations about the proposal. They did not agree with the need for land resumption work, which had all along been undertaken by the Government, to be contracted out. They saw a need for the principles of the proposal and the work process to be discussed both by the Working Group and the Planning, Lands and Works Panel. DS/Tsy agreed to withdraw the proposal and arrange for its re-submission after discussion at the Planning, Lands and Works Panel. She also drew to members' attention that it had always been the practice for the relevant bureaux to consult the appropriate panels on funding submissions involving significant changes or financial implications. Despite the deferral of this and the earlier paper, she assured members that there was no intention on the part of the Administration to bypass this requirement. Admin

28.The item was withdrawn by the Administration.

Provisional Legislative Council Secretariat
15 December 1997