The CCAC received complaints from some civil associations last year, where the latter expressed their doubts about the process of title obtaining, delineation and area calculation concerning the land parcel at Colina da Ilha Verde (literally known as green island hill). They therefore requested an investigation by the CCAC. The Commissioner Against Corruption, according to Law no. 10/2000 (Organic Law of the Commission Against Corruption), mandated an investigation into the matter through an order. After the investigation, the CCAC believed that there were not adequate signs or evidence to challenge the title established by the relevant property registration as well as the delineation and area of the parcel determined on the relevant cadastral map. When it comes to conservation and planning of the parcel at Colina da Ilha Verde, the government departments responsible failed to strictly adhere to relevant provisions of the Urban Planning Law and the Cultural Heritage Protection Law.
Registration of the parcel at Colina da Ilha Verde
According to the property registration and cadastral records, the parcel at Colina da Ilha Verde consists of the hill itself and the adjacent areas. The parcel, mostly on the hill, has a total area of 56,166 m2 and a land description number 2506. The parcel was first registered in May 1886 – the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Macau, in the name of property manager of the St. Joseph’s Seminary, applied for the registration to the Real Estate Registry based on a deed documenting the purchase of the parcel by the seminary in March 1828.
According to the relevant property registration record, in May 1886, the St. Joseph’s Seminary leased part of the parcel at Colina da Ilha Verde to Ilha Verde Cement Company Limited for building and operating a cement plant with a term of 25 years. In September 1991, the Diocese of Macau signed a deed with Kong Cheong (Macao) Development and Investment Company Limited (hereinafter referred to as “Kong Cheong Limited”) and sold the parcel with a description no. 2506 to the latter at 95,000,000 patacas. In January 2007, Kong Cheong Limited resold it to the current owner, Wui San Development Company Limited (hereinafter referred to as “Wui San Limited”), at HKD188,300,000.
The title of the parcel at Colina da Ilha Verde
The complainants believed that, according to the relevant historical records, the former Portuguese government of Macao did not occupy and govern Ilha Verde until 1890, and thus they queried the authenticity and validity of the transaction of the parcel at Colina da Ilha Verde in 1828 and the property registration in 1886. After the investigation, the CCAC found no evidence that the deed documenting the purchase of the aforesaid parcel by the St. Joseph’s Seminary and the property registration conducted later were forged or fraudulent. According to Article 7 of the Property Registration Code, the definitive registration constitutes a presumption that the right defined in the registration belongs to the registered owner or entity.
The complainants had doubts about why there were military barracks, blockhouses and warehouses at Colina da Ilha Verde. According to the CCAC’s investigation, in November 1923, the former Portuguese government of Macao wrote to the Diocese of Macau requesting the latter to allow it to build military facilities at Colina da Ilha Verde and send garrisons there. In March 1927, the Portuguese military department wrote to the Diocese of Macau, requesting that part of the parcel and buildings at Colina da Ilha Verde be leased to them. In May 1975, the Portuguese military department handed the leased parcel and buildings over to the former Portuguese government of Macao for administration. In May 1981, the former Portuguese government of Macao terminated the lease contract officially and returned the said parcel and buildings for military purposes to the Diocese of Macau.
After the registration of the parcel at Colina da Ilha Verde in 1886, there was no document or record showing that someone ever brought a lawsuit to the court requesting cancellation of the relevant land transaction or querying the title of the St. Joseph’s Seminary. There were also documents showing that the former Portuguese government of Macao once had discussions and entered into a lease contract with the Diocese of Macau about building military facilities at Colina da Ilha Verde, where the eligibility of the St. Joseph’s Seminary as the owner of the parcel at Colina da Ilha Verde was recognised. Therefore, in view of the principle of legality, the CCAC opines that there have been no adequate signs or evidence to challenge the title established by the relevant property registration.
The area of the parcel at Colina da Ilha Verde
According to the real estate registration data, the parcel at Colina da Ilha Verde with a description no. 2506 is 56,166 m2 in area. The accuracy in the area calculation was doubted by the complainants. Information shows that the area was not clearly recorded in the original property registration, which only indicated that its circumference was around 1,000 m. In March 1988, the then Department for Cartography and Cadastre carried out an analysis on the area of the parcel. Following the analysis, the department estimated that the parcel should be on the hill in the shape of a circle and calculated the area as 79,580 m2.
According to the analysis conducted by the department, the parcel with a description no. 2506 had been divided three times and its area remained at 56,948 m2. In June 1988, the former Portuguese government of Macao notified the Diocese of Macau of the result of the analysis and requested for opinions from the latter. In July 1988, the latter sent a letter to the former pointing out that there were mistakes in the calculation and measurement of the area and that the parcel with a description no. 2506 should also cover some parcels next to it.
On 27th April 1991, the former Portuguese government of Macao, the Diocese of Macau and the St. Joseph’s Seminary signed an agreement confirming that the parcel with a description no. 2506 was composed of nine plots of land, covering a total area of 70,228 m2, of which the then Department for Cartography and Cadastre made a cadastral map on January 1991. On 11th May 1991, the St. Joseph’s Seminary submitted to the Real Estate Registry the agreement and other documents and applied for separate property registrations of the other eight parcels. Ever since then, the area of the parcel with a description no. 2506 has remained as 56,166 m2.
In accordance with Article 14 of Decree Law no. 3/94/M, cadastral map is sufficient for identification of the location, area and boundary of a property. Following an analysis of relevant documents and information, the CCAC considered that there is no sign showing mistakes or fake parts exist in the cadastral map made by the then Department for Cartography and Cadastre. Therefore, the area of the parcel at Colina da Ilha Verde should be 56,166 m2 as recorded in the real estate registration.
Conservation and planning of the parcel at Colina da Ilha Verde
The complainants also suspected that the government departments failed at the conservation and planning of Colina da Ilha Verde, thus resulting in damage to the hill and landscape. The CCAC found in the investigation that the relevant departments did not strictly comply with the provisions under the Cultural Heritage Protection Law and the Urban Planning Law when dealing with the conservation and planning of Colina da Ilha Verde.
At the request of the former owner of the parcel at Colina da Ilha Verde, Kong Cheong Limited, the public works department issued the street alignment plan of the parcel with a description no. 2506 in December 1997 and August 2005. In August 2011, Wui San Limited, which had already purchased the parcel, submitted the same application. In February 2014, the Land, Public Works and Transport Bureau (DSSOPT) replied that since the parcel was within the area that the Ilha Verde Urbanisation Plan covered, the street alignment plan would not be issued until the plan was finalised.
According to the information obtained by the CCAC, in October 1996, the former Portuguese government of Macao formulated the Research Plan of Urban Regeneration of Ilha Verde, according to which the Ilha Verde district was divided into 26 areas. The plan laid down detailed provisions of the purpose, the permitted building height and other building requirements of each area. In response to social development of Macao, the DSSOPT commenced a study on formulating a new planning in 2008 and completed the Ilha Verde Urbanisation Plan in October 2010. In February 2011, the bureau publicised the urbansation plan and gathered public opinions.
Under the Ilha Verde Urbanisation Plan, the Ilha Verde district is divided into 53 areas for different purposes of development, such as green conservation, public housing, social facilities and commercial and residential zone, etc., while the parcel with a description no. 2506 is divided into eight areas for different purposes. According to the urbanisation plan, part of the hill and the remains of the convent are designated for the purposes of green conservation and public facilities, while part of the hill below the hillside and the areas surrounding the hill are designated for commercial and residential purposes.
Due to entry into force of the Cultural Heritage Protection Law and the fact that Colina da Ilha Verde has been classified as a site with value of cultural heritage, the Ilha Verde Urbanisation Plan no longer accorded with the reality. In August 2014, the DSSOPT commenced the procedure of revising the urbanisation plan. In December 2017, based on the opinions given by the Cultural Affairs Bureau (IC), the bureau made revisions to part of the contents of the urbanisation plan, which expanded the green conservation zone to the entire hill, shrank the areas in which building is permitted and lowered the permitted maximum building height in some of the areas.
However, the DSSOPT has never conducted public consultation on and publicised the aforesaid revisions of the Ilha Verde Urbanisation Plan. The CCAC considered that the urbanisation plan and the “detailed planning” as provided for in the Urban Planning Law are of similar nature and have the same effect. Therefore, the bureau should obtain opinions from the Urban Planning Committee, the general public and the parties concerned in accordance with the “principle of transparency and promotion of public participation” provided by Article 4 of the Urban Planning Law when revising the urbanisation plan and publicise the revisions in an official manner in accordance with the “principle of openness” stipulated by law.
In accordance with Paragraph 2 of Article 64 of the Urban Planning Law, before the overall planning and the detailed planning are implemented, the DSSOPT and other public departments shall continue to adopt the guidelines and principles laid down in existing urban planning and studies on urban planning. The CCAC considered that since Ilha Verde district is actually not a “white zone”, the Ilha Verde Urbanisation Plan still has binding effect in the aspect of planning. In this sense, when assessing the building projects in Ilha Verde district, the public works department should ensure that the building requirements provided for in the urbanisation plan are complied with.
Recently, when the Urban Planning Committee was discussing the urban condition plan of the area at the bottom of Colina da Ilha Verde adjacent to Estrada Marginal Da Ilha Verde, the representative of the DSSOPT pointed out that the draft of the urban condition plan was made based on the Ilha Verde Urbanisation Plan in 2010. The DSSOPT should clearly know that since part of the content of the Ilha Verde Urbanisation Plan in 2010 was obsolete and did not accord with the provisions under the Cultural Heritage Protection Law, it was necessary to revise the urbanisation plan and the relevant works were in progress.
In the CCAC’s opinion, the DSSOPT’s granting of urban condition plans to construction projects before completion of the revision work on the Ilha Verde Urbanisation Plan has contravened the provision under Paragraph 2 of Article 64 of the Urban Planning Law. The practice of approving projects before reviewing the urbanisation plan is simply “putting the cart before the horse” and will inevitably raise doubts about whether or not some acts are “intentionally hasty”. It will also seriously undermine the effectiveness of the urbanisation plan. Such situations contravene the “principle of legality” provided for in Article 4 of the Urban Planning Law.
Regarding the conservation of Colina da Ilha Verde, which has been a subject of concern of various sectors of society, according to the information available to the CCAC, the IC once wrote to the parcel owner Wui San Limited in October 2017, where it pointed out that the convent there fell into disrepair and it therefore requested the company to carry out repair and maintenance works as soon as possible. Later, the IC provided the parcel owner with information such as designs and building materials of the convent at the latter’s request. However, the repair works of the convent have yet to begin. Even an application for a works licence has not been submitted yet.
According to Article 39 of the Cultural Heritage Protection Law, the owner of the classified immovable property must carry out the works that the IC deems necessary after its inspection to ensure the protection of the property. In the event that the works have not been commenced or completed within the scheduled period, the IC may urge mandatory execution under the terms established in the legislation in force, and the respective costs shall be borne by the owner of the property. In the CCAC’s opinion, as the IC is vested with the authority to take adequate and effective means by the law, it should proactively motivate and even carry out the relevant repair works and faithfully shoulder the statutory responsibility for safeguarding the cultural heritage. It should not allow Colina da Ilha Verde, the convent and the other structures there to remain haphazard and in such disrepair.