Why Carrie Lam avoids public consultation

January 06, 2017 10:09
If Chief Secretary Carrie Lam is so confident that the Forbidden City Museum idea would be welcomed by the public, she shouldn’t be so concerned about meeting objections in the course of public consultation. Photo: HKEJ

Under the one-party dictatorship in the mainland, high ranking officials rarely consult the common people before making any decision, because they believe they, as the ruling class, are almighty and omnipotent, therefore they don't see any need to treat their subjects on an equal footing, let alone listen to their opinions.

Such mentality of seeing oneself as above anyone else among mainland officials has turned to be highly contagious, and many government officials in Hong Kong have begun to adopt such mindset and started behaving as if they were superior to the public.

It is against this political background that some high-ranking officials in Hong Kong suddenly announced that a multi-billion dollar Forbidden City Museum is going to be built on a premium plot at the West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD).

In fact, the project was pressed ahead with such secrecy that even members of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority had been kept in the dark, not to mention Legco and the general public.

When asked why she bypassed the Legco WKCD committee on this key project and did not follow standard procedure of consulting the public on the issue, Chief Secretary and WKCD Authority chairperson Carrie Lam said the project might meet objections in the course of consulting Legco and the public, which could then lead to incalculable delays. Above all, it might cause “unnecessary embarrassment” to the central authorities.

She also added that she was confident that the museum would be welcomed by both the public and tourists and would become Hong Kong's crown jewel. Given that, she said there is no reason why the public would be opposed to the project.

She also drew a parallel between the museum project and the two giant pandas given by Beijing to Hong Kong in 2007 as a token of goodwill, arguing that the SAR government didn't consult the public on whether to accept the two giant pandas either.

The problem is if Carrie Lam really believed the museum project would get a positive feedback from society, and getting Legco and public approval of the project would be a slam dunk, then why didn't she just do it by the book and follow standard consultation procedure?

Why would she proceed with the project in such a sneaky manner at the risk of coming under fire from Legco and the public for violating due process?

In the meantime, comparing the Forbidden City Museum to the acceptance of the two giant pandas is both misleading and illogical.

Assigning Ocean Park the task of looking after the two giant pandas is one thing, whereas spending HK$3.5 billion to build an extravagant palace museum on a piece of public land covering an area of 10,000 square meters is quite another.

Carrie Lam and her team owe the public an answer as to whether there was really a pressing need for her to bypass public consultation procedure and carry out the project in such haste. If there was really a pressing need for her to do so, then what was that?

As a matter of fact, from a cultural point of view, building a Forbidden City museum in Hong Kong to showcase China's ancient relics permanently is no doubt a good idea, as long as it is not part of Beijing's “patriotic” propaganda.

For a museum like that would not only serve as a hub for historians and academics specializing in the study of the Ming and Qing dynasties from all over the world, but also provide a rare platform for the palace museums in both Beijing and Taipei to hold joint exhibitions and academic seminars on the study of the Forbidden City.

Nonetheless, no amount of benefits can justify undermining proper procedure.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 5

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ columnist