Last weekend, the Professional Commons held an open forum on the way forward for the redevelopment of the Tsim Sha Tsui harborfront.
Members of the public, lawmakers and town planning professionals gave their views on how to enhance our harborfront so that it can be part of the fabric of daily life.
Some expressed grave concern over the government’s decision to directly award the harborfront redevelopment project to New World Development rather than opening it to public tender.
They worried that the lack of transparency and insufficient public consultation might jeopardize the project.
It’s no exaggeration when our harborfront is described as Hong Kong’s crown jewel.
But to the dismay of many Hongkongers, the harborfront has become increasingly irrelevant to their daily lives.
Its core value to their collective memory has given way to such commercial attractions as Avenue of Stars.
The government insists it’s a monument to movie stars and outstanding professionals in the local movie industry but the fact is that it’s just another way to attract mainland visitors.
In 2011, CNN rated Avenue of Stars as one of the world’s 12 worst tourist traps “designed with mainland Chinese tourists in mind”.
The government has repeatedly argued that Avenue of Stars has been instrumental in promoting Hong Kong’s movie industry to the world but it’s an overstatement.
Apart from the handprints of movie stars on the ground, the life-size statue of Bruce Lee and a few other exhibits, there’s hardly anything in it that contributes to local cinema culture in any meaningful way.
The Hong Kong Film Archive in Sai Wan Ho would be a much better place to go if you want to learn more about Hong Kong’s movie industry.
That aside, I am skeptical about the government’s explanation that the harborfront redevelopment project was awarded directly to New World Development because the project is non-profit.
As such, the argument goes, there is no conflict of interest or any appearance of collusion between the government and big business.
But how can you call it non-profit when New World Development will provide catering and retail facilities when the project is completed?
The conduct of the government in this regard could set a very bad precedent.
If that became standard practice, it would turn our system of procedural impartiality and transparency upside down, not to mention the harm it could cause to our standard of governance.
The last harborfront enhancement program, completed in 2006, cost HK$190 million (US$24.22 million) in taxpayers’ money.
And last time I checked, the harborfront still belongs to each and every citizen of Hong Kong.
So how could the administration justify its decision to bypass Legco and not to consult the public on the redevelopment project?
Only by conducting a proper public consultation and an open and transparent tender can the government truly gain public support for the project and allay concerns about collusion with big business.
Besides, a public bidding can inspire competition and stimulate innovation, thereby raising the overall quality of the project.
It’s mind-boggling this government has failed to see that.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 07.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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