'Magic figure' of $9.85 million for flower show queried

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 January, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 January, 1999, 12:00am

Legislators quizzed the Secretary for Home Affairs yesterday on whether the $9.85 million budget to participate in a flower show in Kunming had been specially calculated to escape their attention.

Democrat Fred Li Wah-ming, who called on David Lan Hong-tsung to appear at yesterday's Finance Committee, wanted to know how the budget had grown from $6 million to just less than $10 million - the figure which triggers the need for committee approval.

'It is adjusted to just under $10 million. Otherwise, you would have had to come to us. Is this a magic figure?' he asked.

He also asked the Secretary about the role played in the decision making by First Lady Betty Tung Chiu Hung-ping, who supports the Horticultural Expo and was presented with flower specimens by the organising committee.

Mr Lan said: 'I only know Mrs Tung has been to Kunming to do work for the Red Cross. I don't rule out that at the time someone talked to her about the expo. But what she said there is her own opinion.' The two municipal councils refused to fund the original $6 million project, saying it was absurd and impractical.

The Government will now use Treasury funds to take part in the fair, to be held in May.

Legislator Yeung Sum said the Democratic Party was disappointed with the Government's decision.

'The decision is regrettable. With such high unemployment, if this money was spent in Hong Kong, how many tourists could we have attracted?' Dr Yeung asked if the committee's decision in 1996 delegating power to the Treasury to approve items under $10 million could be revoked.

Frontier member Emily Lau Wai-hing called the amount outrageous in light of the Treasury's financial standing.

Mr Lan defended the participation, saying: 'A lot of our tourists are from the mainland. It is right to attract them in a non-hard-sell way. Think of the televisions and the fridges they will buy and the money they will spend when they visit.'