I appreciate your columnist Tim Hamlett's concerns ('That $9.8 million garden path', Sunday Morning Post, January 17) about public accountability over our plans to participate in the '99 International Horticultural Exposition to be held in Kunming from May to October (the last one in 1995 was held in Osaka, Japan).
Mr Hamlett apparently felt that there was insufficient justification to finance our involvement to the tune of $9.8 million. May I remind him that the event is the largest of its kind (an international expo on horticulture) in recent history.
It is expected to attract participation from more than 60 countries and 20 major international organisations in addition to participation domestically by over 30 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions.
Some 10 million visitors from around the world are expected, albeit the majority will be Chinese, which certainly will not hurt Hong Kong's tourist industry as mainland visitors have taken up an increasing proportion of our visitors (some 27 per cent of tourists visiting Hong Kong for the past 12 months came from the mainland).
Clearly, our motive in participating is not limited to displaying our floral emblem, the bauhinia.
We are there primarily to capitalise on the international exposure that an event of such a scale will afford us. And so we are there to remind the international community that Hong Kong has remained a robust centre for commerce, banking and investment. And it has not lost any of its lustre as a major cosmopolitan city nor its many attractions as a 'crossroads of East and West' since the handover.
Let me reassure Mr Hamlett that it was not some officials' whimsical decision to take part in this expo. Rather, we have taken a calculated decision with a long-term view that we shall in due course recoup our investment in the creation of a 'Hong Kong Garden' many times over in the years to come.
The garden itself will become a permanent fixture after the exhibition to continually advertise the many attractions of Hong Kong as both a business and tourist destination as well as depicting Hong Kong as a transparent society capable of meeting the challenges of the 21st century with its usual ingenuity, sophistication and high technology.
As to Mr Hamlett's puzzlement over the Home Affairs Bureau's (HAB) involvement in this project, I should remind him that HAB took over part of the portfolio of the then Broadcasting, Culture and Sports Bureau last April and my bureau now carries policy responsibility over recreation, culture and sports, among other things.
DAVID H. T. LAN Secretary for Home Affairs