Chief Secretary Carrie Lam has recently created a firestorm of controversy after she unilaterally announced in Beijing that a Forbidden City Museum is going to be built on a designated site in the West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD) in collaboration with the Palace Museum in Beijing.
In fact, the idea would probably have been welcomed by both the public and Legco if Lam had followed standard procedure such as consulting our legislature beforehand and, if necessary, launching a public consultation on the proposal before officially pressing ahead with it.
After all, the museum will almost certainly appeal to the local public and tourists from around the world with its world-class exhibits.
Unfortunately, the fact that Lam suddenly announced the decision on her own in Beijing without notifying any member of the WKCD Authority nor members of the Legco WKCD sub-committee has called into question whether she has deliberately bypassed Legco and the public in order to carry out her own idea, in violation of Article 19 of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority Ordinance.
Under the ordinance, the government and the WKCD Authority must consult Legco and, under certain circumstances, the public about any new proposal or substantial change in the planning of the WKCD. It is therefore against the law for the authorities to alter the planning of the WKCD behind closed doors or keep Legco or the public in the dark about any fundamental change to the project.
Spending HK$3.5 billion to build a brand-new museum on a premium site in the WKCD that occupies an area of over 10,000 square meters is something that the government cannot do without consulting Legco or the public under the law.
Even Michael Lynch, former chief executive the WKCD Authority, has publicly called into question the very idea of building such a museum, arguing that the facility would be inconsistent with the initial main theme of the WKCD, which is to focus on contemporary art.
And Lam’s hasty and unilateral decision to build that museum has aroused suspicions that she could be trying to kiss up to Beijing with her plan in order to boost her chief executive election prospects.
In order to prevent the controversy from snowballing into yet another political crisis, we believe there are two options before Lam right now: First, to launch a public consultation in order to convince our fellow citizens of the benefits of building the museum; or second, to scrap the plan altogether and find another existing venue to house the palace exhibits.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 30
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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