Legco queries Victoria Barracks deal

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 March, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 March, 2005, 12:00am

Home affairs chief asked to explain why parts of the historic site was given to a US-based group before seeking local interest

The home affairs secretary was pressed to explain yesterday why the government had handed over part of the historic Victoria Barracks to a cultural organisation based in the United States before seeking interest from other groups.

Questions were also raised in the Legislative Council why the New York-based Asia Society was raising money for the project locally instead of from overseas.

Patrick Ho Chi-ping admitted the government had not asked anyone else before giving the Asia Society the go-ahead to turn the former British Army magazine site in Admiralty into an arts and cultural centre.

He said three organisations - Hong Kong Ballet, the Hong Kong Arts Development Council and a catering operator - had inquired about the site but had never made a formal application, he said.

The Asia Society's $200 million plan for the site met the government's policy objective because it came from a non-profit-making organisation, would help to bring a new cultural scene to the community, and would put the site to good use without incurring public expenditure.

Legislator Kwok Ka-ki did not agree. He questioned why the organisation had sought $102.5 million from the Jockey Club rather than seeking money from overseas charities.

'Everyone knows that the Asia Society is an American-based cultural organisation,' he said.

'It gave a clear impression to the public that it would seek funding from overseas and never mentioned that it would be from local sources. Basically, Jockey Club's funding is for [local] charities, so I disagree that this project does not use public funds.'

Dr Ho said the Asia Society told Central and Western District Council during its presentation that funding would come from local organisations and individuals.

The project was not 'a transfer of benefits. It would best protect public interests', the home affairs chief said.

Aside from the Jockey Club's funds, the Asia Society has received $100 million in grants from local and overseas private trusts and foundations, private corporations and individuals. The Asia Society is to lease the 7,800 square metre site - which includes structures ranging from 70 to 150 years old - for $1 a year for five years.