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Old February 10th, 2009, 09:51 AM   #501
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Tuesday June 28 2005

Legislators' Spain trip panned by rival bidder

Chloe Lai

A bidder for the controversial West Kowloon Cultural District project has objected to a Legco visit to a rival's partner in Spain.

Henderson Land questioned the relevance of the September trip to Bilbao. It said the cultural project there was about urban regeneration, while the funding of the Guggenheim Museum in the city was irrelevant to Hong Kong.

At least seven lawmakers will visit the Abandoibarra project between September 18 and 25 because they believe that the waterfront area in Bilbao is comparable to the Hong Kong project in nature and scale. The Guggenheim museum is a strategic partner in the Cheung Kong (Holdings)-Sun Hung Kai Properties joint venture, Dynamic Star International.

The trip, which will cost taxpayers up to $30,000 per person, was approved by Legco's House Committee last Friday.

But Alan Leong Kah-kit, chairman of Legco's subcommittee on the West Kowloon Cultural District, said preparations were still being made. The visit could be called off if meetings could not be arranged with the right officials.

Henderson Land, which is bidding for the project through its subsidy, World City Culture Park, said it was unfair to visit only Bilbao.

Henderson's overseas partners, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Kimmel Centre in Philadelphia, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the National Theatre in London, invited the lawmakers to visit their facilities last month, but they declined.

David Dumigan, the developer's deputy project director, said: 'We don't oppose the visit. But we think they should go to more museums so they will have more information and perspectives on how museums are financed and operate.'

Mr Dumigan described the Guggenheim executives as 'very good sales people'.

He suggested legislators visit renowned museums in London, as they had to transit through the British capital or Paris.

Mr Leong said yesterday that Bilbao had been chosen because they wanted to visit a place relevant to the cultural hub project. He said the trip was based on a study conducted by the Legco secretariat.

'No one invited us to Bilbao. We don't have the luxury of time to visit New York, Paris or London,' he said.

'We will just go to meet the government officials in Bilbao to study how they sell land and use the revenue to fund the arts and cultural development. It is not about how museums are operated,' he said.

Leung Man-to, spokesman for the People's Panel on West Kowloon, said: 'Bilbao is the right place to see how a city redeveloped into an arts and culture hub.'

Mr Leung said lawmakers should nevertheless not overlook London, for a comprehensive picture on museum development and operation.
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Old February 10th, 2009, 09:53 AM   #502
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Thursday June 30 2005

Lining up to be counted

Clarence Tsui

Will it be a match made in heaven or a pact with the devil? Various art groups have teamed up with property developers bidding for the West Kowloon Cultural District project. It's a mutually beneficial arrangement: developers need artists' endorsements, while arts organisations pledge allegiance in the hope of gaining a foothold in West Kowloon.

On the Cheung Kong-Sun Hung Kai bandwagon are Springtime Productions, the Hong Kong Ballet, the Hong Kong Sinfonietta and Theatre Ensemble, all strategic partners of Dynamic Star. The Repertory, the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra and the Hong Kong Arts Centre have all expressed interest in the bid.

Henderson Properties hasn't revealed its list of local collaborators, but it claims to have approached more than 30 local art organisations and counts Alice King, former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa's sister and vice-chairman of The Ink Society, among its advisers.

While not boasting a starry list of consultants, Sunny Development's proposals have stated specifically how it would house the major performing arts companies in its venues.

'Artists probably believe if they are to endorse the right project the developers would give them an office or something in West Kowloon,' says Ada Wong Ying-kay, a member of pressure group People's Panel on West Kowloon.

'But even this is a wish list. Could they just renege on their promises and refuse to make them resident companies when the venues are finished?'

There's a real fear among some local performers who think they might be reduced to bit-part players in West Kowloon if they don't advocate a coherent artistic blueprint themselves.
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Old February 10th, 2009, 09:54 AM   #503
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Thursday June 30 2005

It's a bungle out there

Forget the West Kowloon project, Hong Kong has neither the sophistication nor the audience to sustain a cultural hub of Asia, writes Kevin Kwong

SEVERAL LONG QUEUES are snaking outside the 1,181-seat Lyric Theatre at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. The crowds are here, at 7.25pm on a Friday night, to catch not the latest hit from New York's Broadway or the London West End, but a local show that has been running since March 17. Tonight is the 43rd performance of Man of La Tiger.

This Theatre Ensemble season opener, a one-man show starring its founder and associate artistic director, Jim Chim Shui-man, has sold more than 30,000 tickets and is set to return for a fourth run in November. For a production of its kind, this is unprecedented.

'I've never been to a theatre before, but I enjoyed this show,' says Ching Wong, 19. 'I think I'll go to another theatre show now. The atmosphere in a theatre is very different. It is more interactive.'

Emmett Lui Siu-fung, also a first time theatre-goer, is less enthusiastic. 'I was a little disappointed,' the 41-year-old chauffeur says. 'Chim is a great actor. But I don't understand why the audience would laugh at every swear word. Is that supposed to be funny? I'm disappointed by their reaction.'

La Tiger may be filling seats, but some critics have already questioned whether the show is as good as it's cracked up to be. A South China Morning Post review described it as 'two hours of seemingly endless, cheap visual gags - mainly entailing Chim, who carries the show, doing impersonations of local politicians and celebrities ... La Tiger entices not reflection but merely recreation.'

But box office figures show this is what the masses want - and the only way for companies such as Theatre Ensemble to build an audience.

As public consultation for the West Kowloon Cultural District closes today, Hong Kong has been given a chance to tell the government what it wants for this mammoth $24-billion project. After all, funding of a good portion will come from the public coffers.

The question is: do we really know what we want?

While much has been discussed about the physical, political and business aspects of the project - whether it should include the giant canopy designed by Lord Foster, or the tendering of the project be based on the single-bidder approach - very little (if any) attention has been given to the 'art'.

'To date, there has been no in-depth discussion on what sort of culture and art should go in there,' says executive director of the Hong Kong Arts Centre, Louis Yu Kwok-lit. 'All we get to hear are the minute details of what facilities we should have, like the number of restrooms. I doubt if the public can give any in-depth feedback on the arts it wants to see, either.'

Yu says the quantity and quality - or rather, the lack of both - of our theatre/concert and museum/gallery goers could turn the West Kowloon project into a cultural theme park, a la Disneyland. 'And everything suggests that is what the government wants too,' he says.

It's a bitter pill for the local arts community to swallow, but the reality is that Hong Kong lacks the audience numbers needed to sustain any substantial cultural growth, let alone turn this city into the cultural hub of Asia, at least in the short term.

Take Hong Kong Ballet's 2005/06 season opener Spartacus, for instance. Choreographed by former Bolshoi dancer Irek Mukhamedov and staged at the Sha Tin Town Hall in March, the production received rave reviews, but critical success failed to translate in terms of box office. The Contemporary City Dance Company has gradually raised its standard in recent years, but this improvement has been met with falling attendance figures.

We now have top classical music conductor Edo de Waart at the helm of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, but it can muster just enough audience to make up a full hall over two consecutive nights for the less popular and more challenging programmes.

Visual art fares slightly, but not much better, with the Hong Kong Museum of Art recording a solid attendance of more than 24,000 visitors between January and May, thanks to its Impressionism exhibition earlier this year. It received a total of 271,398 visitors last year.

The city has a small but good cluster of private galleries that are, surprisingly, staging not only commercial but also edgy art exhibitions. John Batten Gallery, for instance, recently held a show by award-winning artist Tsang Kin-wah that was more challenging than money-spinning.

'I've always considered my gallery to be a typical gallery that you would find in any mature art market,' says Batten. 'Galleries like mine, commercial in name, but with a commitment to showing interesting and 'artistically intelligent' art, can be found in all mature art markets.

'Tsang's White Cube was just one exhibition of many that I have shown that displays this principle - the fact that there are few buyers of this kind of art proves that Hong Kong is still a very immature art market.'

Edward Lam Yick-wah, who satirises the local masses in the East Wing West Wing series he co-writes with Zuni Icosahedron's Mathias Woo Yan-wai, says Hong Kong people lack not only cultural maturity, but also sophistication. 'This lack of sophistication doesn't only manifest itself in the arts, but the fact we have no sense of humour,' Lam says. 'It is tragic that most of us don't have time to stop and think. Hong Kong is still about money-making and taking advantage of whatever, whenever possible.

'Sophistication requires a certain degree of intellect ... when the mind is able to absorb and digest a line spoken, or an art piece, and then through our own experiences and references, to appreciate the meanings behind. And you don't get much of that watching local TV. Hong Kong people lack this intellect.

'Popularity can be easily accomplished, but not quality,' Lam says. 'Local theatre still has a long way to go.' But shows such as Man of La Tiger and Zuni's box office hit East Wing West Wing series are now seen as a first step towards building a more cultured audience, says Yu.

'These two subsidised groups are looking for a new audience. If they don't, they will not improve. And what they're producing is entertainment. But a new trend has emerged,' the veteran art administrator says.

'Before, commercial theatre was staged by people with no, or very little, traditional theatre experience. Now, it's done by groups like Zuni and Theatre Ensemble who still stage productions that are considered artistic.'

Yu says the government is likely to go for the 'entertainment district' option and a lack of local audience matters little because visitors are likely to be from the mainland. 'Look at Disneyland, that's not going to survive on local demand alone,' he says.

Lam says with so little discussion on the artistic content, West Kowloon is just going to be a pretty looking landmark devoid of cultural meaning or significance. 'In the end, it's just going to be a joke,' he says. 'And the laugh is on us all.'
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Old February 10th, 2009, 09:54 AM   #504
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Thursday June 30 2005

DAB joins opposition to giant canopy and single-bidder policy

Ambrose Leung

The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong yesterday added its voice to concerns about the giant canopy that will cover the West Kowloon Cultural District.

The move, coupled with its opposition to the single-developer approach to the multibillion-dollar project, will increase pressure on the government to reconsider how it handles the development.

Announcing the findings of a party poll yesterday, DAB legislator Cheung Hok-ming said the government should scrap the plan for a giant canopy because it would not give value for money.

'It is wasteful and difficult to maintain. Also, we fear the design will be a major stumbling block to splitting up the project for multiple bidders. It should be scrapped,' Mr Cheung said.

The poll found more than 60 per cent of respondents supported a multi-bidder approach, while those who opposed the canopy design outnumbered those who in favour of it.

Under the original design by Lord Foster, a giant canopy would be built over part of the 40-hectare site, which would be divided between cultural activities and commercial development.

Artists and political parties have expressed concern that the use of a single developer, as proposed by the government, would confirm that officials were colluding with the business sector.

The DAB urged the government to set up a statutory body to co-ordinate development of the district.

'To avoid doubts that officials are colluding with businessmen, the government should scrap the single-bidder approach,' legislator Chan Kam-lam said.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen this month gave strong signals that the single-bidder idea would be scrapped, but he has stood firm on the canopy design.

A public consultation on the project ends today.

The DAB's opposition will strengthen the near consensus among major parties in opposing the single-bidder approach and concerns over the canopy.
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Old February 10th, 2009, 09:55 AM   #505
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Thursday June 30 2005

Rafael Hui set to be named as chief secretary today

Martin Wong

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's team is likely to be completed today with the announcement of Rafael Hui Si-yan as his chief secretary.

It is understood the central government will announce its acceptance of Mr Tsang's recommendation this morning.

Mr Hui is expected to meet the media this afternoon to discuss his feelings about the appointment and his plans. His is also expected to talk about the West Kowloon cultural hub and his relationship with Sun Hung Kai Properties, one of the candidates for the project.

Mr Hui, 57, is a long-term friend of Mr Tsang. They worked closely in the government before Mr Hui left the civil service as financial services secretary in 2000. He then headed the Mandatory Provident Fund Authority until mid-2003, when he established his own consultancy company, which helped Sun Hung Kai Properties bid for the West Kowloon project.

Despite being repeatedly pressed to reveal his choice of chief secretary, Mr Tsang has remained tight-lipped, saying he needed Beijing's approval.

However, it is well-known that Mr Hui was the chief strategist in Mr Tsang's campaign. He joined the campaign team for an election victory celebration on Monday.
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Old February 10th, 2009, 09:56 AM   #506
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Friday July 1 2005

Rafael Hui comes clean on arts hub

Jimmy Cheung, Dikky Sinn and Ambrose Leung

New chief secretary denies his former links with property giant will create a conflict of interest

Newly appointed Chief Secretary for Administration Rafael Hui Si-yan began his term of office yesterday by coming clean on his business dealings and personal views about the controversial West Kowloon cultural hub project.

He dismissed claims his former business ties would create a conflict of interest when he begins dealing with the West Kowloon project - a political hot potato that has sparked much controversy because of the government's insistence in granting the project to a single developer.

Any conflict that might arise, Mr Hui said, would be due to the clash between his personal opinions on the approach to the cultural hub and the government's position.

'There is no business conflict whatsoever,' he argued.

Mr Hui admitted he had previously voiced opposition to the government's policy of awarding the project to a single bidder and installing a huge glass canopy, fuelling concerns that he may not be able to remain impartial. But he vowed to keep an open mind now that he would be taking charge of the project.

'At the time, I was speaking my mind as an ordinary citizen. In all my nightmares, I never dreamt that I would be sitting here [as chief secretary],' he said.

'I had indeed expressed some different views in the past. That to me is a challenge. What was said was said and I cannot retract that. But there are rules to follow and I will do that. I would not let my personal views dictate the development.'

Mr Hui stressed that he would attach great importance to the views of legislators.

His remarks came shortly after Beijing officially appointed the former senior civil servant to succeed Donald Tsang Yam-kuen as the city's second-in-charge on the eve of today's 8th anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to China.

Mr Hui conceded that he had provided consultancy services to Sun Hung Kai Properties, but said this was limited to offering advice on economic and political matters.

'No lobbying was involved whatsoever,' he said.

He refused to disclose how much he was paid as a consultant, other than to say it was no way near what was reported.

Mr Hui rejoins the government five years after resigning in 2000. He rejected speculation that Beijing had initiated his appointment.

'It was Mr Tsang's decision. Mr Tsang told me stability, unity and harmony are vital in the next two years, and that I can provide a little help on that. I have been a friend and colleague of his for decades, I found it difficult to turn it down.'

Describing his return to the government as a 'homecoming', Mr Hui underscored the importance of unity in the Tsang team.

'It is of utmost importance that our new government stands united ... It is through unity that we can achieve success in the shortest possible time,' he said.

'I need more time to think over how I can best support and dovetail with the chief executive's work so as to give the capacities of the government team full play.'

State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan said he was confident that Mr Hui would be able to work closely with the new chief executive.

'He [Rafael Hui] is very capable and very experienced,' Mr Tang said in Moscow during a state visit by President Hu Jintao to Russia. 'I am sure that he can work closely with Mr Tsang Yam-kuen.'

Mr Tang said Mr Tsang would be able to lead Hong Kong forward.

'Under the leadership of Mr Tsang Yam-kuen, Hong Kong will have unity and develop even better.'

Speaking after administering the oath to the new chief secretary, Mr Tsang said he and Mr Hui worked well together.

'I have worked with Mr Hui for many years and I fully understand that he has wisdom, ability and perserverance in serving the country and Hong Kong,' he said.

Mr Tsang said his right-hand man had a good understanding of the public pulse and would be able to strengthen relations with the Legislative Council, as well as helping him lead the team and civil service.

Tycoons dismissed fears that Mr Hui could be biased. But some legislators warned that he risked losing credibility without a prompt clarification about his business ties.

Ronny Tong Ka-wah of the Article 45 Concern Group said Mr Hui should pledge not to return to the business sector after his tenure.
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Old February 10th, 2009, 09:57 AM   #507
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Friday July 1 2005

Bidders count on waterfront site being carved up

Chloe Lai

Project rules likely to be amended to 'keep everybody happy'

The bidders for the West Kowloon Cultural District project believe the government will carve up the 40-hectare waterfront site, possibly splitting major residential development from the arts facilities, industry sources said.

They said the bidders expect the government to create a co-ordinating agency, which will be similar to a cultural authority, to oversee the arts and cultural facilities.

As the six-month public consultation ended yesterday, a senior executive of one of the bidders said the project rules 'will be amended to keep everybody happy'.

The source added the land near Canton Road will probably be carved up for auction so the smaller developers can also have a slice of the prime site. Land revenue will then be used by the co-ordinating agency to fund the operation of the arts hub.

The government wants to turn the waterfront site into a cultural hub and to have a property developer fund the project's development and operation for 30 years.

But the government's single-developer approach and its decision to make a huge canopy designed by Lord Foster a mandatory requirement has drawn criticism from smaller developers, artists and cultural critics, legislators and professionals such as architects, planners and surveyors.

They also questioned other mandatory requirements, such as three theatres with at least 2,000, 800 and 400 seats, a performance venue with at least 10,000 seats, and a complex of four museums.

A public consultation was later announced as part of the public relations move to address the criticism. The consultation, which started on December 16, exhibited the three shortlisted bids to enable the public to comment.

More than 215,000 visits were recorded at the exhibition venues at the City Hall, the Science Museum and Heritage Museum. The government also received more than 33,100 comment cards and 480 written submissions over the three shortlisted bids.

The shortlisted bids for the project are the Cheung Kong-Sun Hung Kai joint venture, Dynamic Star International; the World City Cultural Park, which is a subsidiary of Henderson Land; and Sunny Development, a consortium between Sino Land, Wharf Holdings and Chinese Estates Holdings.

Although Swire Properties' proposal was rejected by the government for failing to comply with some of the mandatory requirements, the company showcased the proposal in its shopping malls.

The guessing game escalated after Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen told members of the Election Committee during his election campaign earlier last month that it was possible to drop the single-developer approach.

Shortly after Mr Tsang revealed his latest position, Cheung Kong executive director Grace Woo Chia-ching said at an open function that the project needed a co-ordinator because it is very complex. 'It doesn't matter whether the co-ordinator is the government, a developer or a third party. But it is important to have a co-ordinator to examine how to split the works.'

An industry source said: 'The winning bid is still going to get a large chunk of the land. But as the size will be significantly reduced, the winning consortium will not be responsible for funding the arts hub's operation.

'I don't think anyone has a problem with this arrangement. The bidders will be glad to get rid of this responsibility.'

The source believed the winning bid would be in charge of building the arts and cultural facilities as well as the canopy.

In return, the developer would be able to build profit-making commercial buildings at the arts hub, similar to the approach adopted in the Cyberport project. But he pointed out the new approach would not prevent the leading developers from becoming the major landlord of the site.

Ada Wong Ying-kay, from the People's Panel on West Kowloon, said it was likely the controversial Foster canopy would be dropped and the government would come up with a comprehensive cultural policy.

She said the land designed for residential development should be sold as soon as possible so the new co-ordinating authority would have resources to do its work.

'I believe with the support of the artists and cultural critics, the government will have a sensible tendering document within five to nine months.'
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Old February 10th, 2009, 09:58 AM   #508
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Monday July 4 2005

Bidders press case for dropping canopy

Chloe Lai

Two property giants bidding to develop the West Kowloon Cultural District have hinted they want the government to scrap a giant canopy at the heart of the design if the single-tender approach to the project is abandoned.

In an interview yesterday with TVB News, senior executives of Sino Land and Henderson Land cited high construction and maintenance costs, as well as technical difficulties, to back their argument.

It is the first time the firms have publicly expressed their reservations about the mandatory canopy, which covers 55 per cent of the 40-hectare site.

Observers say the bidding contest would swing in favour of a third firm vying for the project - Cheung Kong-Sun Hung Kai joint venture Dynamic Star International - if the government scrapped the single-tender approach but retained the canopy requirement.

An industry source said: 'If the government keeps the canopy, it favours Dynamic Star as it has a very well designed canopy. If it is scrapped, it favours the other bids.'

Henderson project director Lau Chi-keung said: 'If [the government] really is cutting the project into a number of pieces, can the canopy be built? The canopy is a one-piece design that sleekly stretches along the site.'

Henderson is bidding through its subsidiary World City Cultural Park with a design that would stand without a canopy.

Sino Land executive director Yu Wai-wai said: 'The public likes the canopy. Their only concern is the construction and the maintenance cost; they think it is a burden to Hong Kong.'

Mr Wai told TVB his company was responding to a survey of visitors to the cultural hub exhibition that closed last Thursday.

Sino Land formed a consortium, named Sunny Development, with Wharf (Holdings) and Chinese Estates Holdings to bid for the project. Its design is made up of 100 small, transparent canopies, but the master plan would remain intact without the canopies.
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Old February 10th, 2009, 09:59 AM   #509
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Tuesday July 5 2005

Legislators challenge decision-making process for cultural hub

Ambrose Leung and Chloe Lai

A confidential report by legislators on the West Kowloon cultural hub criticises the government for a special procedure that allows it to bypass the legislature, sources said yesterday.

The report, to be released tomorrow, also recommends the single-tender approach be scrapped.

Legislators set up a subcommittee on the West Kowloon project early this year.

Subcommittee chairman Alan Leong Kah-kit hopes the government will not be defensive over the report's conclusion and recommendations. He said it was an opportunity for Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen to show he listened to the Legislative Council.

Sources involved in writing the report said it concentrates on the government's decision-making process and the single-tender approach.

It also covers the public-private-partnership model the government is keen to take up so public works projects will be developed and managed by property developers.

The cultural hub has adopted this model, which allows government to skip approval for funding from Legco's Finance Committee.

The source said: 'In the beginning, the government reclaimed the waterfront site for building a park, then it changed to become a cultural hub. We don't know how they came up with the decision.'

He also cited the government's design competition which made Lord Foster's canopy concept the foundation of the layout. 'We don't know how a competition eventually becomes something we must follow,' the source said.

He described the entire process as abnormal, saying it stripped the rights of organisations, such as Legco, of the power to veto the project.

Chief Secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan said yesterday his priorities would be to concentrate on constitutional reform and the West Kowloon Cultural District project.

Speaking before his first day at work after taking office last Thursday, Mr Hui said he would not issue 'blank cheques' on what he could achieve.

It is understood he will not be visiting Beijing in the near future.
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Old February 10th, 2009, 10:01 AM   #510
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Thursday July 7 2005

Lawmakers find no valid grounds for single bidder

Gary Cheung

The government has been urged to scrap the single-developer approach for the West Kowloon Cultural District by a Legislative Council subcommittee, which will make a decision on the proposed giant canopy after further investigations.

In its first report published yesterday, the subcommittee on the cultural district puts forward six recommendations on the way forward for the arts hub projects, including abandoning the single-developer approach.

It says there are no valid grounds for adopting such an approach to the project, which was advanced by the government as making the best use of public and private resources.

'These objectives could similarly be achieved by a multi-package approach,' the report says. 'The subcommittee considers that even if the canopy is desirable, the single-package approach is not required.

'The administration should abandon the single-package approach, which lacks public support.'

It calls on the government to examine the feasibility of other development strategies, such as multi-package and incremental implementation, which it says will encourage competition.

The government has been criticised for insisting on its plan to grant the entire project to a single developer for 30 years.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen last month gave strong signals that the single-bidder idea would be scrapped, but has stood firm on the canopy design.

Subcommittee chairman Alan Leong Kah-kit, a legislator from the Article 45 Concern Group, said he did not see why the cultural hub needed to be completed in one go. 'It can be done in stages,' he said.

The report also says there should be structured and extensive consultation with the public to map out the priority of needs in the cultural district project.

Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, a subcommittee member and a lawmaker for the Article 45 Concern Group, asked: 'Why has the project been stalled? Why has it been heavily criticised? It is because the government did not uphold due process.'

The subcommittee report says the Executive Council, which was said to have been bypassed in the policymaking process, should be duly consulted and updated on the project.

Legco should also receive more comprehensive information.

An impartial overseeing authority should be set up to monitor the development of the arts hub.

The report does not reach a conclusion on whether the giant canopy designed by Lord Foster is desirable and the subcommittee will make its position known when it releases its second-phase report by the end of the year.

It was revealed in April that a government-appointed technical panel warned in 2001 that the canopy would bring problems. Maintenance would be too expensive and its construction would present an obstacle to breaking the project into smaller tenders.

The confidential report said the panel had shortlisted 21 designs, but Lord Foster's was not among them.
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Old February 10th, 2009, 10:01 AM   #511
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Thursday July 7 2005

Exco and Legco both bypassed on arts hub


Chloe Lai

That's impossible, chief secretary says, rejecting Legco committee's accusations

Both the Executive Council and the Legislative Council had been bypassed by the government in decision-making on the controversial West Kowloon arts hub project, a Legco report concluded yesterday.

Exco had only been consulted three times since the idea for the cultural district was floated in 1998, said the report by a committee monitoring the project.

The cabinet was first consulted in November 1999 on plans to make the site a world-class cultural hub, said the report of the subcommittee on West Kowloon Cultural District development. Exco was asked in June 2003 to adopt the single-developer approach and in November last year to approve the shortlisting of three bidders to build and operate the development.

The government only briefed Legco's planning, lands and works panel about the project three times between 1999 and 2003, and the single-developer approach was not discussed in those meetings, the report said. During that period, the project mushroomed from a plan to merely build a 5.5-hectare cultural venue to the construction of a 40-hectare 'world-class' arts hub.

The report said the legislature's power to examine and approve was bypassed because the project did not require government spending - it will be funded by the winning bidder in exchange for development and management rights for 30 years.

Even though members of the subcommittee described the problems exposed in the report as disturbing, they declined to lay blame on any single official, including Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who, until he became chief executive, was chairman of a government steering committee overseeing the project.

Mr Tsang pledged during his election campaign to listen to the views of the public about the project, and hinted the single-developer approach could be dropped.

Subcommittee chairman Alan Leong Kah-kit said it was not its job to hold anyone responsible. 'It is the problem of the system. Exco has a role to monitor things internally and members should take the initiative to ask for more information.'

The government said it had consulted Exco and Legco on the development of West Kowloon at every key stage. Chief Secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan, now in charge of the project, denied any official had dictated developments or bypassed Exco and Legco.

'It is impossible to mislead, bypass or cover the sky with one hand. Exco is always the gatekeeper on key policies,' he said.

He said the government had now hired the Polytechnic University to seek the views of the public on the project, and would attach great importance to legislators' views.

Mr Hui, who was a consultant for Sun Hung Kai Properties - one of the shortlisted bidders - has admitted having reservations over the giant glass canopy designed by Lord Foster for the site. But he said yesterday there was a lot of public support for the canopy.

He also stressed a decision on the canopy would be made by the government as a whole and that there was no conflict of interest from his previous work with the developer.

Despite the government's insistence Exco had been consulted, James To Kun-sun, a member of the subcommittee, said the cabinet had been informed of developments at a very late stage each time and then asked to make a decision.

Legislator Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee said: 'If Exco can be bypassed, then the system is collapsing.'

What next?

The subcommittee's key recommendations:

The government should:

Abandon the single-package development approach

Consult extensively with public and relevant sectors on how to develop the site

Ensure transparency and accountability in decision-making

Re-examine the extent of private partnership that will deliver best value for money

Conduct feasibility studies into the requirements and needs of each of the cultural district's facilities

Set up an authority to oversee the development

Legco should:

Follow up government administrative deficiencies
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Old February 10th, 2009, 10:02 AM   #512
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Friday July 8 2005

Slow response to critical report


Ambrose Leung and Felix Chan

Chief Secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan will respond to Legco's report on the government's handling of the controversial West Kowloon Cultural District in two months' time, according to Liberal Party chairman James Tien Pei-chun.

Mr Hui met legislators yesterday, after a Legco subcommittee issued a damning report on Wednesday criticising the government for bypassing the Executive and Legislative councils for years when making plans for the area.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Tien said Mr Hui declined an invitation by legislators to meet later this month, saying he needed time to study the report.

Mr Tien also quoted Mr Hui as saying the government would use the next two months to study responses from an exhibition of the cultural hub's design.

The People's Panel on West Kowloon, meanwhile, repeated its call for wider public involvement in the planning process for West Kowloon and the formulation of a 'holistic and visionary' long-term cultural policy for Hong Kong.

Spokesman Mau Chi-wang said the group welcomed the Legco report on West Kowloon as it agreed with the group's basic demand that the single-developer approach be scrapped.

'This report struck a blow to the so-called gang of administrative officers [AO] and could even be interpreted as an expression of dismay or opposition to the rule-by-AO practice here,' he said.

Co-spokesman Albert Lai Kwong-tak said the report showed the process was full of flaws and the government's standard of making policy decisions was as poor as that of a third world country.

'We want the government to immediately open up the project steering committee because for the past seven years the committee has been operating in a black box,' he said. This should include appointing representatives from Legco and the community and opening its meetings to the public.

The group called for a statutory authority to be created to oversee the planning for and management of the district.
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Old February 10th, 2009, 10:03 AM   #513
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Friday July 8 2005

Property player supports city's cultural advancement


Reports by Elizabeth Turner

THE INAUGURAL CONCERT of HKPO artistic director and chief conductor Edo de Waart was sponsored by Hang Lung Properties. The concert - featuring Mahler's Symphony No 1 (Titan), John Adams' Short Ride in a Fast Machine and the world premier of Guo Wenjing's Journeys - was a prelude to the conductor's debut performance in Shanghai, also backed by the Hang Lung Group.

Ng Sze-yuen, executive director of Hang Lung Group and Hang Lung Properties, said the sponsorship - the group's first for the HKPO - was in line with the promotion of one of its trophy properties, The HarbourSide in West Kowloon.

'It has created a lot of noise here as well as in Shanghai,' he said.

Hang Lung Properties chairman Ronnie Chan said the company was pleased to contribute to De Waart's directorship, which has contributed to Hong Kong's social and cultural advancement.

He said Hong Kong's cultural scene deserved more support. 'We have made a small donation, but the scene needs more than what we have supported so far.'
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Old February 10th, 2009, 10:04 AM   #514
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Friday July 8 2005

Culture hub a test of Tsang's election pledges

To many Hong Kong people, the findings of the Legislative Council's first report on the West Kowloon Cultural District development will not come as a surprise.

The Legco subcommittee looking into the controversial project concluded that the government had sidelined the legislature and its own top policymaking body, the Executive Council, in the planning process. The Legco report confirms the widely shared perception that our government sometimes rides roughshod over the public and their representatives. This should not continue.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen must now fulfil his promise to pursue a more inclusive style of governance. He should begin demonstrating his sincerity by seriously considering the Legco report's recommendations on the way forward for the West Kowloon project.

The key suggestions include the scrapping of the single-developer approach and the creation of an impartial authority to oversee the development. Mr Tsang has already dropped strong hints that more developers might be allowed to participate in the project. If this is the new consensus, the government should be prepared to give it serious consideration.

Setting up a co-ordinating agency, too, is an idea gaining support due to the complexity of the undertaking. Such a dedicated body would certainly be better able to balance the interests of all the stakeholders than various government officials with ad-hoc responsibilities.

But the Legco report highlighted a more fundamental problem. Our governmental process is broken and in need of fixing. For such a major public enterprise that will help define Hong Kong's future civic identity, very few people know how it came to take on the current shape.

Exco was consulted three times between 1999 and last year and was basically asked to rubber stamp what the government wanted, including the contentious single-developer concept and the choice of three shortlisted bidders.

As for Legco, it was not even given a chance to rubber stamp, receiving only three briefings. It seems the government felt justified in bypassing the legislature because the project will not be funded by the public but by the winning private-sector bidder. Still, it was wrong to ignore Legco: highly valuable government land and the public good are involved.

When the public consultation was launched last December, the key aspects of the project were presented as if there were broad agreement on them. This is not a genuine consultation conducted with an open mind. To be meaningful, the government should ask for the public's views at the earliest possible stage. There must also be no take-it-or-leave-it elements. If officials continue down this path, they risk a public backlash, as we saw with the Article 23 debacle.

The Legco report adds to the growing pressure on the West Kowloon project to be sent back to the drawing board. In addition to the single-developer scheme, the giant canopy, which is envisaged as the project's iconic symbol, has come under open criticism from two of the three shortlisted bidders. This week, Henderson Land and Sino Land cited high construction and maintenance costs and technical difficulties as reasons for doing away with the roof-like structure if the single-developer approach is ditched.

Should the project be carved out to more than one developer, the canopy would be harder to build. In that case, it might have to be dropped. Mr Tsang has so far insisted that the canopy design will stay. But if he wants the cultural hub to enjoy full public backing and succeed, he must keep an open mind.

As chief secretary who had the task of steering the project, Mr Tsang often took a rigid stance on its core elements. During his election campaign for chief executive, however, he did pledge to listen to people's views - singling out West Kowloon - and to work more closely with Legco. There is no better time for Mr Tsang to translate his words into action.
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Old February 10th, 2009, 10:05 AM   #515
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Sunday July 10 2005

Tsang's baby will test his political mettle

CHRIS YEUNG

Almost six years after the government gave its approval for the West Kowloon Cultural District development, the mega-sized project's future is at a crossroads.

Last week, a Legislative Council subcommittee report on the controversial project was published. It opposed the single-developer approach, put the idea of its giant canopy in doubt, and concluded the government had sidelined the legislature and the Executive Council in the planning process.

The findings are by no means new. Plans to build a roof-like structure canopy and grant development rights to one consortium have been severely criticised by people from different sectors. Some Exco members said there was grave reservation about the canopy.

Moreover, most opinion polls show a majority of respondents are against the single-developer model, giving more ammunition to the powerful business sector lobbying for the lucrative project to be carved up for more players.

The Legco subcommittee report, which comes days after a government consultation on the three shortlisted proposals ended, will mark the start of a new battle over the cultural project.

As pressure is stepped up on the government to abandon the plan's two centrepieces, legislators are fighting a battle with just as much as stake - their right to have a say on the use of public resources, namely land in the case of West Kowloon.

Legco has sought to change the rules of the game in the next round of the tussle now that the government, under a new leader seems to have paved the way for an overhaul of the cultural hub project.

Much earlier, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who spearheaded the project in his capacity as chief secretary, had softened his stance on the single-developer approach, but he has stood firm on the canopy concept. However, after being named chief secretary, Rafael Hui Si-yan has confirmed he does not like the canopy idea.

One cabinet member said it was inconceivable the pair had not touched base on the issue before Mr Hui took office. Major changes to the original proposals looked imminent, the source said.

Mr Hui's appointment as chief secretary will provide a good opportunity for a climbdown by Mr Tsang. More importantly, how the Tsang-Hui partnership handles the cultural project, and constitutional reform, will be a test of the 'people-based, consensus politics' approach they advocate.

Given the deep-seated suspicions that the government has given favours to big business through projects such as Cyberport, the single-developer approach for the West Kowloon project has been doomed from day one. It has been seen as a model tailor-made to channel favours to one consortium.

With the public's perception that government-business collusion remains entrenched, Mr Tsang cannot afford to bulldoze through the controversial development model. To do so would be to run the risk of stirring up discontent with his administration.

All the signs are that the single-developer approach will be dropped. The next question is how the project will be chopped up for potential bidders. Pundits say it will not be a surprise if the government gives up on the canopy, even though it is seen as Mr Tsang's baby, for the sake of maintaining harmony.

It appears the project is back where it started when Exco planning for the cultural hub began in 1999.

Key questions remain unanswered: Who builds and operates it? Where is the money coming from? What facilities and programmes should the cultural complex provide? How can people participate? The list goes on.

Faced with a budget deficit and sagging economic confidence and with his relationship with Legco uneasy, Mr Tsang apparently saw the single-developer approach as offering a magic solution to these problems - creating work for thousands of people at no cost to the exchequer. However well-intentioned this approach, if Mr Tsang wants to stick with it, he will have to go the extra mile to convince the sceptics he is right to take such a risky political short cut.
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Old February 10th, 2009, 10:07 AM   #516
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Sunday July 10 2005

Green revolution - turning old shoes into new sports grounds


Richard Castka

The worn-out, smelly old sneakers you're about to throw away might have life in them yet.

Hong Kong-based Fieldturf Asia is at the forefront of turning unwanted shoes into hi-tech playing surfaces for sports like basketball, tennis, athletics and soccer.

Five such pitches have been constructed in Hong Kong since 1998. The first pitch was laid at the University of Hong Kong in Sandy Bay in 1998, a second was installed at the King's Park rugby ground in Kowloon in 2003, while a further three pitches have recently been laid in Tai Po, West Kowloon and Tung Chung.

James Middleton, managing director of Fieldturf, said Hong Kong's subtropical climate was far from ideal for grass pitches.

'Grass pitches need time to recover from the wear of competition, so only a limited playing schedule is suitable in our climate,' said Middleton.

'Manchester United's grass pitch at Old Trafford can be kept in good condition as it's played on only about once every two weeks. Recreational pitches in Hong Kong see much more activity than that, so it's very difficult to keep them maintained and in good condition.'

A 10-year cost analysis has shown that grass is 10 times more expensive to maintain than the new artificial surface.

At 10,000 square metres, the Tai Po pitch is the largest of its kind in Asia, while the Tung Chung and West Kowloon pitches have been designed primarily for seven-a-side play, and each measures 3,240 square metres.

By using an artificial surface, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department can now lease out the pitches with a much-improved playing schedule and hence bring in greater revenue to offset maintenance costs.

There is very little difference in the overall construction cost of both grass and artificial pitches. According to Middleton, the cost to build a full-sized sports pitch is between $4.5 million to $5 million.

The discarded shoes are simply sliced into three primary portions - the rubber outsole, the midsole foam, and the upper fabric or fluff. The materials are then ground down into small particles and cleaned. The resulting material is called Nike Grind.

The upper fabric is used as padding under hardwood indoor basketball floors, and to cushion the impact of the players' often hard landings. The midsoles are re-cycled for use on synthetic basketball courts, tennis courts and playground surfaces while the rubber from the outsole goes into running tracks and football pitches.

It takes just 3,000 shoes to make a basketball court or 100,000 shoes to create a new running track.

Fieldturf has installed artificial pitches at more than 1,500 locations worldwide, including famous sporting landmarks such as the Tokyo Dome.

The surface has also been approved for major international events by organisations such as Fifa and Uefa.

In the UK, 75 per cent of Premier League football teams practice on synthetic pitches laid by Fieldturf. Dongdan Field, in the heart of Beijing, is the busiest football pitch in the world with an average of 700 players per day, and is also covered with Fieldturf's artificial surface.

All this is a sad reminder that the Hong Kong Government Stadium in So Kon Po is still covered in pasty-looking grass and is seldom used for major sporting events.

'If you calculate the labour, machinery, chemical and maintenance costs at So Kon Po, and work it out on a dollar per hour basis per square metre, you would be shocked with the result,' added Middleton.

While the purists may well see the hallowed turf of Wimbledon as the supreme tennis surface, the day might not be too far away when the shoes that are treading the turf today are ground up to make way for the playing surface of the future.

BOUNCING THE BACK

THE SYNTHETIC GRASS

The hybrid fibres are a polyethylene and polypropylene blend that are woven into a porous mat. Each blade is UV-coated and placed to look like real grass. The blades can withstand extreme temperatures and are more durable than natural grass.

THE INFILL

The graded silica sand and finely ground rubber mimics natural earth, holding up the synthetic blades. The loose infill is spread between the blades in layers, and can be kicked up as an athlete runs over it.

HOW IT DRAINS

The porous design of the turf can take up to 40 inches of rain without losing playability. Water drains through the hybrid blades and its backing and down the mesh mat. Water then runs along asphalt to

concrete drains set around the mound of the football playing area and around the entire field.
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Old February 10th, 2009, 10:08 AM   #517
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Monday July 11 2005

Stanley Ho favours multi-developer idea


Jimmy Cheung

Tycoon Stanley Ho Hung-sun has weighed into the debate over the West Kowloon project, saying a multi-developer approach would net the government $150 billion more than a single developer would.

Mr Ho, chairman of the Real Estate Developers Association, yesterday criticised the proposal to award the cultural hub to a single developer.

'I have always opposed the single-developer approach. We think the Treasury would gain much less as a result,' he said.

He believed the government could gain up to $200 billion by opening up the bid, compared with its own estimate of $50 billion to $60 billion.

'As long as the government allows more developers to participate, either through the application list or public auction, it can fetch at least over $100 billion, if not $200 billion.

'If the government can make more money, why not?'

The casino and property tycoon also said the Executive Council should include representatives from the property sector, as the industry was such an important part of the economy.

He dismissed fears that this would lead to collusion with businesses, saying such problems only existed in poor countries.

Speaking on a Commercial Radio programme yesterday, Alan Leong Kah-kit, chairman of a Legco committee on the West Kowloon project, hoped the government would establish a new steering authority to develop the project.

As his committee was still unable to gain access to crucial details on the project, such as financial arrangements and technical studies, Mr Leong would not rule out the possibility of invoking special Legco powers to obtain the relevant papers later this year.

But he said this would be a last resort. 'We have entered an interactive stage. We hope there will be a positive response from the government,' he said, referring to recommendations tabled last week.
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Old February 10th, 2009, 10:09 AM   #518
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Monday July 11 2005

Language as a creative tool

Interview by May Chan

I graduated from the department of foreign languages and literature at the National Cheng Kung University, and went to the United States for further studies. After that I taught at different universities, including the University of Heidelberg in Germany. My German husband is a professor, and we have two sons, aged 18 and 16.

Whenever I travel, I try to bring them along so as to broaden their exposure. We discuss how a city works as a system, and what values are implied. I remember on one occasion I was strolling in a mega shopping hall in Hong Kong with my younger son, and we could not find a single bench to sit on. Finally, we had to pay to sit down at a cafe. Then my son noticed that, in Hong Kong, many things were not designed for people's comfort, but to make profit.

At home, my husband speaks to the boys in German. I speak to my children either in Chinese or German. When they go to school, they talk to their classmates in English. We have not decided for them which language they should use as their mother-tongue when they grow up: they will decide for themselves.

Language is a key to knowledge and culture, and parents should give their children different keys so that they may choose which door they wish to open. When I first arrived in Hong Kong to teach two years ago, I was intrigued by the language environment here. Hong Kong people do not seem to have a 'language of the soul', which is the language you use to compose poetry, to express your deepest thoughts, emotions and pain. This language is also a key to creativity.

Instead, Hong Kong people seem to treat language merely as a tool. They are trained to speak Chinese and English, without fully understanding the culture and history behind them.

For most Hongkongers, Cantonese is their main communications tool. I believe it is a distinct language rather than a dialect. Cantonese is actually one of the most ancient languages, with a rich cultural context.

I have been fascinated by the creative way Hong Kong entertainment magazines play with words in their writing. They keep inventing funny vocabulary and phrases in a hybrid of Cantonese, mainstream Chinese and English.

I love this city and its people, but I am saddened by the fact that the government is biased towards the rich, and spends a lot of money to protect their interests - for example, the West Kowloon cultural hub project. Does this investment serve Hong Kong as a whole, or just a particular class of people? Why should cultural products cater only to the middle class?

I do not think the Hong Kong government has the vision to develop the city as a cultural hub for Chinese communities, even though it has the potential to act as a bridge between Taiwan and the mainland.

It has failed to see that the city's colonial past and its cosmopolitan population together make up a valuable cultural asset. It is actually the most internationalised Chinese-speaking city in the world, including people from a wide array of ethnic backgrounds.

I care about Hong Kong so much because it is a very special Chinese-speaking community, and that makes us family.

Being a member of this family, I sincerely urge Hong Kong people to look beyond the splendours of the city, and to seek their real culture and values.

Lung Ying-tai is a celebrated essayist and cultural critic. She recently left her temporary teaching post at the University of Hong Kong and returned to Taiwan
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Old February 10th, 2009, 10:10 AM   #519
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Tuesday July 12 2005

Proposals for hub top-notch, says bidder

Chloe Lai

Proposals for developing the West Kowloon Cultural District are of high quality and can form the foundation for the project's next phase, a bidder for the ambitious scheme said yesterday.

'There are a number of very good proposals for the government to consider,' said Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong, vice-chairman and managing director of Sun Hung Kai Properties.

'If the government wants to set up some sort of statutory authority, I believe it will go back to the bidding proposals, because they are really very good.'

The shortlisted bids for the project are the Cheung Kong-Sun Hung Kai joint venture, Dynamic Star International; the World City Cultural Park, which is a subsidiary of Henderson Land; and Sunny Development, a consortium comprising Sino Land, Wharf Holdings and Chinese Estates Holdings.

After Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen softened his position on the single-developer approach and Chief Secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan confirmed he did not like the giant-canopy idea, speculation has mounted that the government will set up an authority to oversee the project's development and operation.

Mr Kwok said it was too early to say whether the government would give up the single-tender approach, adding that the future of the project should depend on public consensus. He said Sun Hung Kai would bid for the project even if the government split it up, as it was a prime site.

He said the public should not jump to the conclusion that Mr Hui, once a consultant for Sun Hung Kai, would favour the corporation. He also said Mr Hui had never been involved in the arts hub project.
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Old February 10th, 2009, 10:11 AM   #520
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Tuesday July 12 2005

Decision-making through the back door

C. K. Lau

For a city whose government has taken pride in having a good system of checks and balances, the Legislative Council's report on the West Kowloon cultural district has revealed several unpleasant truths.

It shows the government can bypass its own established procedures to get things done in very unorthodox ways; it can dodge legislative approval of such a big public project by packaging it as a 'non-cash' transaction; and it can procure an arts hub without knowing what it will contain, leaving that to the bidder.

As conceived by the government, the proposed West Kowloon cultural district is about inviting the private sector to build and operate a massive public facility for 30 years on a prime waterfront site. Instead of being paid cash, the winning bidder will be compensated with the right to sell and rent residential and commercial properties on the site.

That makes the project financially 'free-standing', which means the government does not need to get Legco's approval for funding.

Public attention has focused on the Legco report's rejection of the single-bidder approach. But its value lies far more in documenting the twists and turns of the administration's unaccountable and non-transparent decision-making process. When the project was first hatched in 1998, it was about building a performance venue, a stand-alone cultural facility occupying about 5.5 hectares of land. By 2000, however, without going through any structured consultation or detailed studies, the decision was made to build an integrated cultural, residential and commercial district on 40 hectares.

Initially, the idea was to hold an open competition to create a new look for Victoria Harbour, and a multi-package development approach was to be adopted. Eventually, a concept-plan competition was held and a single-package development approach using property rights to 'pay' the winning bidder was adopted. During the process, the conventional 'needs-specific' approach in the development of cultural facilities was changed to a 'supply-led' and 'community-driven', and then to the current 'open-to-suggestions' approach. The bidders have been asked not just to build specified performance venues and museums, but also to fill them up with what they consider to be appropriate shows and exhibits.

Departing from standard procedures in pursuing public-private-partnerships, there were no detailed studies to establish the need to develop an integrated arts, cultural and entertainment district, or its value for money. Moreover, the paper trail shows that major changes in policy direction were apparently made without seeking the Executive Council's endorsement.

It is a little surprising that the Legco report stopped short of proposing measures to strengthen its legal powers to check the government. For example, it has not asked for a legislative amendment to make Legco approval necessary for non-cash payments.

In handling West Kowloon, the government has clearly breached the spirit, if not the letter, of the Basic Law, which provides that Legco has the constitutional functions of approving taxation and public expenditure. Indeed, critics have raised the possibility of seeking a judicial review of the way in which Legco has been bypassed.

While Legco is pushing the government to set up a public authority to oversee the project, there is a chance the government may stick with its current approach. Conceivably, it could drop the single-developer approach to placate public opposition, break the project into smaller parcels and still pay developers with property rights, not cash.

While that might be more acceptable, it would still mean the project would be procured by barter. Should that happen, Legco could still just yell, but not veto.

C. K. Lau is the Post's executive editor, policy

[email protected]
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