Hong Kong security chief hits out at critics spreading ‘false’ information, making ‘a fuss’ over plan to redevelop detention centre

Critics are spreading “false” information and making “a fuss” over a Hong Kong government plan to redevelop a detention centre, the security chief has said, dismissing claims that authorities are building a “five-star hotel” for inmates.

Secretary for Security Chris Tang Ping-keung on Monday underscored the need to spend HK$5.5 billion (US$704.2 million) to redevelop the Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre, which he said was already overcrowded, hitting out at “false claims” from critics.

“Someone has recently written an article suggesting our officials are mounting a ‘soft resistance’,” Tang said, referring to suggestions authorities were not being tough on criminals by revamping the facility.

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“This is false,” he said. “I regret and even condemn those who make a fuss [about the plan].”

The redevelopment plan was endorsed by the Legislative Council’s public works subcommittee on Wednesday last week despite being attacked by multiple lawmakers who said it was too expensive.

Tang said the officials responsible for the project had acted with integrity, prudently using resources and fulfilling their duties.

He brushed aside accusations that authorities were building a “five-star hotel” and offering “luxurious facilities” to inmates, arguing the redevelopment of the centre, built in 1977, was necessary.

Secretary for Security Chris Tang has defended the price tag of the project. Photo: Dickson Lee

“After 46 years, the facilities have aged,” Tang said. “Implementing ‘smart prison’ technology has proven to be challenging. The number of incarcerated individuals has doubled over the past 10 years from over 1,500 to nearly 3,000.”

He said the capacity of the Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre was only about 1,500, but it was housing close to 1,600 detainees at present, adding that the government had already temporarily transferred another about 1,000 people to correctional facilities such as those in Stanley and Tung Tau under an undesirable arrangement.

The security chief also defended the price tag of the project, saying it was partly due to work on slopes nearby.

“If we exclude the costs associated with these specific construction works, the cost per square foot of the redevelopment is similar to that of the Tai Lam Centre for Women which was rebuilt in 2011,” Tang said, referring to the maximum security facility in Tuen Mun.

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He said it was inappropriate to compare residential or hotel redevelopment costs with those for correctional facilities, as the latter required security systems for which replacing a single gate could cost between HK$300,000 to HK$800,000.

A document submitted by the Security Bureau to the legislature showed the coming construction project would span three phases over eight years. The new buildings will feature various facilities, including a clinic with isolation cells and dental treatment rooms, a religious service room, a library and an indoor sports ground.

During last week’s Legco meeting, lawmaker Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, known for his hawkish stance against opposition figures, led the chorus in slamming the project, accusing the government of not taking into account the forecast fiscal deficit of more than HK$1 billion.

“[Inmates] who did something wrong should just find a corner and reflect on themselves,” Ho said. “Why should they be provided with a church or a mosque? How is that right?”

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Tang on Monday said the religious service room was not a mosque, but a place intended for various religious prayer rituals. He also clarified the dental facility would be shared with inmates from other correctional facilities, with a dentist only making several visits a month.

He stressed there would be no additional facilities following the reconstruction, only improvements to their quality. For example, new medical facilities would include negative pressure isolation wards after Covid.

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“I don’t agree with the notion that you don’t need to treat inmates too well, as I believe everyone should be treated with respect regardless of a person’s identity,” he said. “We aim to provide a secure, safe, humane and appropriate management environment based on practicality and purpose.”

Tang said he would meet Ho separately about the redevelopment plan and invite him to visit the facility.

The funding request will be discussed at Legco’s finance committee next.

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