Hong Kong chief publicly grilled over housing controversy

Mr Leung (second from left) and Mr Tsang (third from left) at the press conference yesterday where they faced questions from reporters over their links with a troubled public housing development.
Mr Leung (second from left) and Mr Tsang (third from left) at the press conference yesterday where they faced questions from reporters over their links with a troubled public housing development.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

HONG KONG • Hong Kong's embattled leader Leung Chun Ying choked up during a public grilling yesterday over a housing controversy as questions remain over whether China will support him for a second term.

It was the latest in a series of problems for the Chief Executive, who has been faced with major political protests, a growing movement seeking independence from China and allegations of corruption since he took office in 2012 .

Mr Leung and Finance Secretary John Tsang faced a packed room of reporters for a publicly televised press conference to answer mounting questions over their links with a troubled public housing development.

At the centre of the dispute is Mr Leung's 2014 decision to scale back a public housing project in the Yuen Long area to 4,300 units from 17,000 units. The move would spare a brownfield site from immediate development while continuing construction on an adjacent green area, displacing residents from three communities.

The government has been accused of bowing to pressure from local politicians over the project in the city's partly rural hinterland known as the New Territories.

REPUTATION AT STAKE

CY's reputation will definitely be hurt by Yuen Long. (It is a) most serious scandal.

NEWLY ELECTED LAWMAKER EDDIE CHU, using the Hong Kong Chief Executive's nickname. Mr Leung is facing questions over his 2014 decision to scale back a public housing project in Yuen Long amid allegations of corruption.

Mr Leung denied any "collusion" between the government and rural leaders at the expense of local residents. At the end of the hour-long press conference, he faltered and choked on his words.

"I really must thank my government colleagues, regardless of whether in public or private housing. Every little bit of our achievements did not come easily," he said, before abruptly leaving the room.

Mr Leung, who is not known for showing emotion, was immediately criticised online.

"He had to resort to using this trick," said Ms Kirstie Cheng on newspaper Apple Daily's website. Others on social media accused him of "pretending" to cry.

Mr Leung has seen his popularity wane since taking office, particularly after mass pro-democracy rallies in 2014 failed to win reform.

Their lack of success in achieving that goal has spawned a number of parties and politicians calling for more autonomy or even independence from Beijing.

Mr Leung's press conference came as Hong Kong police arrested six people yesterday morning over death threats to newly elected lawmaker Eddie Chu, who has been campaigning against alleged rural corruption connected with the same project.

Mr Chu, whose campaign helped make him a top vote-getter in Hong Kong's legislative election earlier this month, has alleged that the decision to scale back the development was made to appease rural landlords who operate businesses on the land. Mr Chu has received police protection after reporting death threats that he said probably stemmed from his crusade.

"CY's reputation will definitely be hurt by Yuen Long," Mr Chu had said on Tuesday, using the Chief Executive's nickname.

He described it as a "most serious scandal".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2016, with the headline 'HK chief executive publicly grilled over housing controversy'. Print Edition | Subscribe