TDC should leave the organising to private entities - end of story

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 October, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 October, 2004, 12:00am

YOU KNOW HOW it is with bosses. In any company, you have a number of them, all the way up to the chairman, but the one who really matters to you is the one for whom you work directly.

It is so in the newspaper business as well. The publisher is up there in the clouds somewhere and the editor strides past your desk occasionally, wrapped up in important thoughts, but your everyday boss as a reporter is the news editor.

Mine, when I first did a short stint on this newspaper years ago, was Sarah Monks, now in charge of communications for the Trade Development Council (TDC), and in the newsroom back then there was no mistaking who was line boss.

Thus when Sarah says, 'Now, young Jacob, I must have a word with you,' my natural reaction is to sit straight in my chair, take the cap off my head, put my hands on my knees and say, 'Yes, madam.'

And, predictably, she said it after I had a go at the TDC the other day. My line was that the TDC was not happy to see a new competitor at the airport in AsiaWorld Expo but should be given no further government sweetheart deals to deal with it and already has taken too much of the business to itself by organising trade fairs as well as hosting them at the Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Back in yesterday's newspaper came the expected letter from Sarah, 'Fair space expansion,' ticking me off point by point. My first reaction was, of course, the normal one to being called in by the boss this way: 'Oh, well, that's a cut in the bonus for sure. I had better shut up now or it will all go.'

But much water has passed under the bridge since those times and I still think the TDC is a fair target. Here we go with some of the points of rebuttal that Sarah raised, the first on that matter of a $1.2 billion expansion of the Convention Centre.

The building we propose to expand is Phase II of the centre, which is owned by government, not the TDC.

And I am not really the owner of the land on which my flat is built. I hold only a share of a government lease on it and am likely to lose my 'ownership' sooner than the TDC will ever see the Convention Centre resumed for other purposes or lose its authority over what happens there.

Let us see how far conference organisers or exhibitors would get if they try to deal with the real owner rather than the TDC. The word 'own' will do.

The $1.2 billion proposal to enlarge Phase II of the centre is at nil cost to taxpayers as the TDC intends to finance the project through bank loans and contributions by the venue operator, in addition to our own resources.

Yes, but what about the land premium? I was of the understanding that it is now official policy to make exhibition centres pay their own way, including the eventual objective of freeing the public purse of a 25 per cent subvention of the TDC's budget. Paying your own way for everyone else means paying the public purse for development of public land. Even the Mass Transit Railway Corporation, a much more essential public service, does it, and did it even before it sold shares to the public.

I do not see a land premium in this $1.2 billion figure. If the TDC pays only the construction costs then it has been given another sweetheart deal and I thought we were done with these.

Less than one-third of 60-plus major trade fairs at the centre are organised by the TDC.

The standard international model for running trade fairs is a three-level one, exhibition centre, organiser and exhibitor.

The TDC has made it two by running the exhibition centre as well as organising trade fairs. My argument is that we would be better served to let private organisers do the organising as AsiaWorld Expo is now letting them do at the airport.

But if it is true that only a third of the organising business in Wan Chai is run by the TDC then there is not much reason to be concerned. I have a list from the TDC, however, dated March, of 'Upcoming Mega Fairs in Hong Kong (March 04-March 05)' and seven of the 10 shows on that list have the TDC down as organiser.

I perfectly understand why the TDC should like this lucrative part of the business but its presence in it can deter other organisers from considering Hong Kong when we should really be doing our best to attract as many as we can of these specialists.

Far from opposing the exhibition facility under construction at the airport, the TDC welcomes it, as we have said many times, and promotes it.

That is not the story as I have heard it.