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Monday, Mar 01, 2021

Lands official takes legal action against boss after eight-year wait over houses

Lands official takes legal action against boss after eight-year wait over houses

Lands Department assistant director Anita Lam and her husband apply for judicial review, accusing lands director of failing to determine the application.

A senior Lands Department official in Hong Kong and her husband have taken legal action against her boss for acting “illegally and unreasonably” in handling the couple’s application to build houses, filed eight years ago.

Department assistant director Anita Lam Ka-fun and her surveyor husband Thomas Tang Chiu-man on Wednesday applied for a judicial review, accusing the lands director of failing to determine their rebuilding application, first submitted on October 10, 2012.

The government was also accused of taking political and irrelevant considerations into account and intentionally delaying the application, to the degree of “an abuse of process”, the High Court filing said.

The couple’s lawyers, Audrey Eu Yuet-mee SC and Andrew Tse, said the rebuilding application was processed smoothly until the summer of 2014, when newspaper Ming Pao Daily ran a story accusing Lam of taking advantage of insider information to make a HK$50 million (US$6.4 million) profit on the land purchase.

In July 2012, the couple bought 8,274 square metres of agricultural land in Tsing Tam village, Shek Kong, for HK$18.8 million.

The application was filed on Wednesday.

The site was just outside an area being studied for the planned Kam Tin new town.

That was five months after then financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah said the government would invite the MTR Corporation to study development opportunities in southern Kam Tin.

Lam was later subject to investigations by the Independent Commission against Corruption as well as the government, which eventually cleared her of all allegations of misconduct.

But their rebuilding application is still being processed.

“Whilst normal applications of a similar nature can be approved within eight months’ time, the application has been processed for nearly eight years with no approval in sight,” their lawyers wrote. “The special facts of this case indicate the government has delayed the application after the [media] report and because of [Lam’s] posting with the Lands Department.”

The couple also believed the government’s failure to determine their application was due to a fear of further media coverage and political outcry”, should it be approved, or to “penalise” Lam for “having successfully defended all allegations of misconduct against her and for having caused the Lands Department trouble or inconvenience”.

This failure was said to be “illegal” because it was motivated by an ulterior purpose.

They said their application should have been “a simple contractual matter where consent should not be unreasonably withheld” and approval should have been communicated by June 30, 2015 – based on their assessment of the average time frame – if the government had done its job properly.

Hence, the couple claimed they were entitled to the loss of rental and enjoyment of the proposed houses, on top of the increased costs of construction, which included retaining professional architects, plus interest. The sum, however, was not mentioned in the filing.

They are also seeking a court order for the director to determine the application as soon as possible.

The department declined to comment on the case, since it had entered judicial proceedings.


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