熱血時報 | Reviewing the 2005 privatisation of The Link REIT: the most outrageous case of collusion between government, businesses, politicians and the public in Hong Kong’S history

Reviewing the 2005 privatisation of The Link REIT: the most outrageous case of collusion between government, businesses, politicians and the public in Hong Kong’S history



Reviewing the 2005 privatisation of The Link REIT: the most outrageous case of collusion between government, businesses, politicians and the public in Hong Kong’S history



Hong Kong has approximately two million people living in public housing. Since 2005, the shopping facilities used by these public housing tenants on a daily basis has been under the management of a internationally listed company, and 40% of this listed company’s equity shares at the time [1] were in the hands of two Euro-American hedge fund and bank.

So who is governing Hong Kong? It’s these multi-national companies that are exercising sovereignty and right to govern in Hong Kong.

How do these multinational corporations exploit Hong Kongers? How do they manage to take from Hong Kongers their wealth by the shiploads – wealth that Hong Kongers poured their blood and sweat night and day to painfully accumulate? What these companies want is for the Hong Kong government to forsake their duty to govern and to open the city-gates on their own accord. Nevertheless, it is the city’s own political parties from the left, right and centre, the media, and even Hong Kong citizens themselves that ultimately act as compradors.


A Blitzkreig on Hong Kong’s Assets

International business magnate George Soros’ speculation on the Hong Kong Dollar ignited a financial crisis, causing a massive fall in Hong Kong’s property market. In order to stabilise it, the government stop all land sales and the building of new subsidized housing units. This triggered a ripple effect, in which the suspension in land sales led to an immense reduction in tax revenue, causing a short-term government budget deficit.

In spite of the “temporary” nature of these troubles, they became the breaches that would have Hong Kongers lose their inheritance forever.  In halting the construction of more subsidized apartment complexes, the Public Housing Authority lost their revenue in property sales for management of public housing facilities. As a result of this brief period of deficit, Antony Leung, then Financial Secretary, proposed in the 2003 Budget to securitize or sell the government’s 112 billion HKD worth of assets within five years. This is the origin of today’s Link REIT (named The Link REIT at the time).

The Link REIT is the first time the HKSAR government listed a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) in its stock exchange, thereby pegging the rent for public housing and its facilities to the housing market. Unlike the listing of MTR Corporation Ltd, this sale is a complete sell-off with the government having no equity in shares; in other words, the HKSAR government no longer has the right to govern public facilities used by two million Hong Kong citizens.

A farce, with the financial crisis started by the Jewish American speculator George Soros as its backdrop, and Antony Leung (who later served as the Chairman for the Asian office of the American investment firm Blackstone Group after stepping down from the office of Financial Secretary) making a show of balancing the government budget by selling off public properties on the stock market, has allowed multinational financial firms to raise a fund of 600 billion HKD from Hong Kong’s public assets. This further led to Euro-American financial companies having large quantities of shares in the Link REIT, ruling over a community of two million people in Hong Kong, bringing about calamities on Hong Kong society, and pushing the average Hong Kongers to the brink. How could such a blatant blitzkrieg on Hong Kong’s assets happen not long after the Exchange of Sovereignty? Who allowed all these to happen?


Public Housing Tenants’ Judicial Review Battle

The government opened the city gates but the righteous made their stand. Listing public assets in the stock market eventually had its way under the Donald Tsang era, but it failed in the hands of Tung Chee Hwa, Tsang’s predecessor. On the eve of the listing, a former public housing tenant Ms. Lou Siu Lan filed a judicial review with the assistance of the then LegCo councillors Albert Cheng, Leung Kwok Hung and Albert Chan. While the judicial review was defeated, the court process brought down the listing process, forcing the government to shelf the plan [2]. During the judicial review process, Hong Kong society as a whole responded with an uproar, slavishly defending the sell-off of public assets. On New Year’s Day in 2005, more than ten thousand people marched on Chater Road in Central, voicing their anger against “politicians upsetting Hong Kong” and their support of the listing of The Link REIT in the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.


Bring down enemy of the people; Hong Kong mobilises to sell ITS inheritance

Today, our printed media lament in their news reports about victims of Link REIT as a way to boost newspaper sales, but back then the same media were ardently defending and protecting the interests of Euro-American business conglomerates. On November 25, 2004, the newspaper Ming Pao published an article titled “The Link REIT hints at limited rent rise, increased staff layoff and expenditure reduction, and improvement of shopping malls”. The article claimed that listing The Link in the stock exchange would not lead to a rent hike, without reporting any opposing views or even questioning the “party line”. On December 17, an editorial article in the Oriental Daily compared the judicial review to 9/11 [3]. When The Link REIT was again up for listing, Apple Daily in its July 21, 2005 editorial advised the government to “work harder” to convince stakeholders of the benefits of the Link going public, in order to “reduce opposing forces against privatisation” [4].


Pan-Democrats and Pro-Establishment hand in hand, vowing to protect Euro-American Profits


Even though the Legislative Council (LegCo) had no say in this listing of public assets, many councillors successively voiced their concern regarding the listing of The Link REIT. On 1st June, 2005, Councillor Albert Chan submitted a private bill to LegCo asking the plan to list The Link REIT to be shelved, but the bill was defeated. The Pro-Establishment councillors voted against it. Those from the Civic Party chose to abstain, while all the LegCo members from the Democratic Party declared their support towards the listing of The Link REIT as scheduled.

During the initial attempt to have The Link REIT listed, Sin Chung Kai from the Democratic Party made an animated speech at LegCo stating that the Democratic Party would steadfastly support the listing as scheduled [5]. In his eloquent argument, he proclaimed that in selling off public housing estates’ shopping centres, the government could earn three hundred billion Hong Kong Dollars to build more public housing. He also claimed that the Link REIT would have no pressure to increase rent because the reduction in expenditures from a listed company’s highly effective management would eliminate the need for a rent increase for a few years to come. He even boldly and loudly declared that should there be a rent increase, the management should be fired.

What about the Civic Party? They all abstained from voting at the time. Alan Leong did candidly admit that the Civic Party at the time “did not support the listing of The Link REIT” [6], but his party’s councillors abstained from voting because the listing process had already reached its final stage; shelving the plan then would have been detrimental to “public interest”. He went a step further to assume the role of “government consultant”, advising the government that they could have prevented the judicial review by asking LegCo to amend the Housing Ordinance. This implies that Leong and his party never took a hard line stance against the listing. By teaching the government how to do it “properly”, deep down inside they actually supported the listing.

The Democratic Party used their votes and speeches to befuddle public opinion and to provide cover for the government, whereas the Civic Party gave counsel for the listing while pretending they had nothing to do with it. Yet they were all democratically elected political parties and were widely considered as “leaders” of the democracy movement. The listing of The Link REIT was a rare case of mobilisation of the entire Hong Kong society: the government opened the city-gates, and the media and political parties spread untruths and rumours (for example claiming that the listing could raise revenue for more public housing, or that there would not be rent increases after listing). What is more frightening, however, is that a large number of Hong Kong citizens – consisting of the middle-class, investors, and even public housing tenants themselves – shouted loudly and proudly behind the city-gate in support of selling off the average citizen’s livelihood and standards of living in exchange for a measly profit for themselves. The Exchange of Sovereignty occurred in 1997. Yet only in a few years’ time, such a deep and widespread collusion had successfully formed, paving the way for the world’s biggest case of the sale of public assets and exploitation, as well as an unparalleled case of a government selling off their right to govern and manage its assets. This ugly state of Hong Kong society is no different from that of an uncovered chicken coop. It is akin to the stench of death breathed out by someone on deathbed, which only attracts more vultures waiting for their turn to feed on the corpse of the dying Hong Kong.


Note:

1.In December 2005, the biggest shareholders of Link REIT (formerly The Link REIT) were Deutsche Bank AG (with 22.47% of shares) and The Children Investment Fund Management (TCI; with 18.35% of shares); together they had their hands on over 40% shareholder equity. By April 2017, BlackRock Inc. has 7.14% share, The Capital Group has 7.01%, State Street Bank and Trust Company has 5.59%, and APG Asset Management NV has 5.07%. Together they own around 24% share of the Link REIT.

2.While Lou Siu Lan lost in her judicial review, the ruling was made on the day before the listing would take place, and the deadline for appeal set by the court happened to be after the listing of The Link REIT would have completed. As a result, there was a possible chance that the court could still find the sale unconstitutional. In order to get listed as soon as possible, The Link REIT had petitioned the court to bypass the legal 28-day period of filing for appeal to reduce it to only one day.

3.“Politics Hijacks Judiciary: The Link REIT find tiger hard to dismount”, Oriental Daily, 17th December, 2004.

4.“[Hong Kong government] Must Learn Lesson from The Link”, Apple Daily, 21st July, 2005.

5.Sin Chung Kai made his speech at LegCo on 1st December, 2004.

6.Alan Leong made his speech to motion for “the request to shelf the listing of The Link REIT” on 21st November, 2012.


Editor’s Note: This article was published in the 51st printed edition of Passion Times. Please subscribe to our newspaper via this link: http://www.passiontimes.hk/4.0/regform.php

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