Date
21 October 2017
The government’s new funding plan for West Kowloon Cultural District would mean effectively bypassing Legco oversight of the project, say critics. Photo: HKEJ
The government’s new funding plan for West Kowloon Cultural District would mean effectively bypassing Legco oversight of the project, say critics. Photo: HKEJ

Don’t let the WKCD become a funding blackhole

In his recent policy address, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced some proposals related to the West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD).

To enhance the financial soundness of the WKCD Authority, the government has decided to transfer the development rights of the land lots designated for constructing hotels, office and residential buildings (HOR) within the district to the authority, Leung said.

The move will enable the WKCD Authority to put the land out to tender freely, and use the revenue to subsidize its development and operation costs in the long run, the chief executive said.

He added that if the administration doesn’t do so, the authority might end up with a HK$5 billion deficit in ten years’ time.

I am strongly against this decision as I believe what the government is trying to do is to bypass Legco oversight over the funding of the WKCD, an act which is likely to result in cost-overruns, corruption, inefficiency, and transfer of benefits to big businesses.

The Legco approved a one-off HK$21.6 billion back in 2008 for construction of the WKCD. Under the currently established mechanism, the government and the WKCD Authority have to consult the legislature and seek its approval for every extra dollar to be spent on the project.

However, by transferring the development rights of the HOR plots in the area to the WKCD Authority and allowing it to put them out to tender, what the government is doing basically amounts to injecting extra funding into the project without following the standard procedure of submitting funding requests to Legco for scrutiny.

It not only constitutes a violation of due process, but also calls into question whether the WKCD Authority is now quickly turning from a statutory body subject to public oversight into a money-guzzling monster beyond anyone’s control.

I believe it is important for us to bear in mind the lesson of the Cyberport, which was initially intended to be a tech park, but which eventually ended up being a highly lucrative real estate project at the expense of public interest due to the lack of transparency and public oversight.

We must not allow the WKCD to go down that same path.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 26

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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RC

Associate Professor of the Department of Geography and Resource Management at the Chinese University of Hong Kong

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