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Sorry state of affairs for new ministers

Illegal structures controversy brings more apologies from cabinet members, with one admitting to having an unauthorised drying rack outside a tenanted flat
Olga Wong, Colleen Lee, Tony Cheung and Stuart Lau
Jul 05, 2012

Two ministers apologised yesterday for illegal structures and building work at their properties, as the controversy rolled on.

The apologies came on the second day in office of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who is facing legal challenges and calls for him to resign over the illegal structures found at his house on The Peak.

Food and Health Secretary Dr Ko Wing-man made a second apology for not seeking approval before merging his two penthouse flats in Kowloon Tong. This was followed by Ko’s colleague, Education Secretary Eddie Ng Hak-kim, apologising for an unauthorised drying rack outside his tenanted flat in Wan Chai.

Meanwhile, Leung has yet to clarify whether a trellis at his home – one of six unauthorised structures found at the Peel Rise property – was a replacement for a trellis built by the former owner or a new one that he had built.

In an ironic twist, one of the “authorised persons” Leung hired to inspect his home last month was found to have an illegal housing structure.

Andy Wong Kam-din, a Poly University engineering professor, changed the flower bed design at his home in Tsuen Wan without seeking approval, and a removal order the Buildings Department issued in May 2010 has yet to be complied with.

Wong said in statement last night that the removal order covered 1,500 households in similar situations to his on the estate where he lived and that more than 100 of them, including him, had filed appeals. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for October 22, he said.

Others embroiled in the growing controversy of illegal structures include lawmaker Cheung Hok-ming, Executive Council member Bernard Chan and Commerce and Economic Development Secretary Gregory So Kam-leung. So and Chan yesterday said that removal works were under way.

In the Legislative Council yesterday, Ko declined to comment on his integrity, saying it was for the public to judge.

“It is true that I did not appoint an authorised person to submit a revised plan [for the alteration] at the time [in 2005]. For this, I sincerely apologise to the public,” Ko said, adding he did not do so as the alteration did not involve a structural wall.

Surveyor Vincent Ho Kui-yip said the Buildings Department usually approved merging flats without removing a structural wall. But in Ko’s case, the size of the expanded flat’s balconies exceeded the five-square- metres-per-apartment rule.

Ho said that the building plan shows that Ko’s contractor gave the merged unit two balconies with a total area of 5.4 square metres.

“Ko may have to restore the wall or reduce the size of his balconies, but the latter would be a great disturbance to residents,” Ho said.

Ko has also admitted that a glass house was built on the rooftop, but it was immediately removed after Leung asked him in May to be the new health minister.

As for education chief Eddie Ng, a spokeswoman said his drying rack had been removed.

On an RTHK programme yesterday, Executive Council convenor Lam Woon-kwong echoed Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s view that it was unlikely Leung had tried to conceal his illegal structures, as some critics have claimed.

Asked if he ruled out doubts about Leung’s integrity, Lam said: “We’ll wait and see how he will explain the details.”

Description: The size of Ko Wing-man's balconies breached a rule.

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