Contract row threatens youth centre plan

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 December, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 December, 2004, 12:00am

Clash over handing operation of the complex to a private firm delays construction

Uncertainty looms over a government plan to build a 12-storey youth centre after lawmakers yesterday questioned why officials wanted a single contractor to operate it.

Originally scheduled to choose one of the four remaining applicants next month for the centre's construction, the government now needs to negotiate a further extension to the tendering process in the light of continued criticism from lawmakers who have set up a public hearing on January 3 to gauge the views of youth groups expected to use it.

The proposed centre in Chai Wan with a gross floor area of 36,900 square metres will be the first of its kind in Hong Kong.

The centre's piling and basement works were completed in December last year.

Architectural Services Department chief project manager Lee Yuk-shing warned that more tender applicants could drop out.

'The tendering process has been delayed six times, [and] two have already dropped out. It's unfair to them,' Mr Lee said.

Deputy Secretary for Home Affairs Stephen Fisher also said that if the tender was to start from scratch, the process would take 18 months.

But most legislators at the home affairs panel meeting cast doubt on the 'public-private partnership' proposal, saying profit-making, instead of developing youth services, would be the priority for a private company.

'They're asking a building management company to develop youth services,' social welfare representative Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung said.

He also criticised the government for failing to consult the youth groups.

Under the latest proposal, the government would be responsible for the construction, but the centre's maintenance and operation would be handed to a private firm under a five-year contract. Its operation would be reviewed after three years.

Mr Fisher insisted private participation was necessary if the project was to meet its aim of being self-financing when the government applied for a $550.9 million allocation from the Legco Finance Committee in 2001.

He assured lawmakers that a management advisory committee set up to monitor the centre's operation would ensure service quality.

Mr Fisher's remarks failed to allay lawmakers' concerns.

Democratic Party vice-chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan said the government had proposed setting up a company to run the youth centre when it applied for funding in 2001. 'As the concept of the operation has undergone drastic changes, shouldn't the government get back to the Finance Committee again?' Mr Ho asked.

In response, Mr Fisher maintained that the government still adhered to the principle of self-financing.

He said after the meeting that officials will consider going to the Finance Committee again if the legislature so demands.