Henry Chai Man Hon, District Councillor of Wah Fu North

The District Councillor of Wah Fu North talks to us about the future of the area.

 

Henry Chai Man Hon, District Councillor of Wah Fu North
Henry Chai Man Hon, District Councillor of Wah Fu North

I have been District Councillor of Wah Fu North since 2003 – four consecutive terms of office. Back in college, I studied Social Sciences and majored in International Politics and Law. Learning that society and human behaviour can be explained and changed by systematic political movements inspired me to become a politician.

I began my political career working  in the office of Yeung Sum – the second chairman of the Democratic Party. He was keen on building a better society in terms of social welfare, human freedom and basic rights. Later, when I ran to be a District Councillor, fighting for democracy and a better welfare policy were two of my key election platforms.

On July 1, 2003, we protested against Basic Law Article 23 (also known as the “anti-subversion law”), the basis of a security law proposed by the then government. I believe the proposed bill would have limited the freedom of Hong Kong society. Moreover, as part of its package to of proposals to implement Article 23, the government proposed an emergency police power to enter and search premises without a warrant.

Article 23 protests in Hong Kong
Article 23 protests in Hong Kong

The protest was huge – half a million people took to the streets. Ultimately, it led to the resignation of two Executive Committee members and the withdrawal of the bill, which did not have enough support from the Legco to be passed. It also brought votes to our party.

My office is located at Wah Tai House. Whenever I walk there, people from the neighbourhood talk to me. Sometimes they share information and personal requests, sometimes we talk about public issues like the redevelopment of Wah Fu Estate. On weekends, we set up a counter on the streets to meet with the public.

These days I have more media interviews on the launch of the Wong Chuk Hang MTR station. The launch of the South Island (East) line will bring more visitors to the Southside. It is believed that more hotels will be built around Wong Chuk Hang MTR station.

My colleagues say I am too rational, but I think it’s a good way to approach my work. My parents always encouraged my brother and me to think critically. My brother is a teacher and a history researcher. When I’m off from work, we sit in front of the TV and discuss public issues together.

I also teach Politics at the Open University on a part time basis. My students come from all walks of life and class discussions are full of diverse opinions, which spark new thoughts and ideas regarding society’s problems.

Technology has fostered better communication, especially in district work. I set up an official Facebook page for my office two years ago where I share community news and policy updates. It works well and helps me to collect the first reactions from the public whenever there is a plan from the government.

Being a District Councillor has made me more patient and humble. I have learnt that time is a big factor when implementing a new policy: people need time to digest every piece of information and time to be brave and prepare themselves for change.

During my 13 years of service in Wah Fu, my team and I have worked hard to fight for an MTR line for the south of Hong Kong island, a fair rationalisation of bus routes and the redevelopment of one of the oldest public housing estates in Hong Kong: Wah Fu Estate. After redevelopment, the estate will be a combination of public housing and Home Ownership Scheme flats.

It is also important to strike a balance between development and heritage preservation. As Wah Fu Estate looks pretty much the same now as it did 49 years ago, we hope to preserve at least two blocks as part of the revitalisation process.

The biggest challenge of working at an estate like Wah Fu is making sure everyone can receive and understand our message, especially when change must be agreed by the majority before real implementation can take place. For example, there was a divergence of opinions regarding the installation of security systems in each block. Opposers worried that the installation of a security door in the lobby would cause them inconvenience. We had to explain that a change of habit could give them greater peace of mind about their property.

I love photography. I got my first film camera when I was a college student, but the photography function on smartphones is so good now that I tend to take photos with my phone. City landscapes, architecture and natural scenery are my favourite subjects to shoot. Wah Fu is full of stories – from UFO sightings to the personal anecdotes of longtime residents – a great place for photographers.

My favourite place in Wah Fu is Waterfall Bay as it is the origin of modern Hong Kong history – it is said that the fresh water from the waterfall gave the city its name – “Hong Kong” in Cantonese means “fragrant harbour”. Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that more solo travellers have been coming to Wah Fu. They like to take photos of Waterfall Bay, visit vintage cafes and look at the symmetry of the architecture. I once met some Japanese travellers in Wah Fu, who were very interested in exploring old public estates in Hong Kong.

My wish for 2017 is to speed up the redevelopment of Wah Fu Estate. There are currently around 13, 200 people living on the estate. The Housing Authority has proposed building six venues to house these existing residents while the redevelopment takes place, but residents of Chi Fu Fa Yuen are worried that the construction will destroy the surrounding natural environment. This has delayed the schedule. On a personal level, I hope Hong Kong property prices will fall.

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