Public betrayed as legislators lie down like lambs

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 June, 2006, 12:00am

Tomorrow, the Legislative Council Finance Committee will vote on whether to give $5.1 billion to build new government headquarters at Tamar. Since the main parties have - with rare determination - expressed support for the project, the vote is set to go the government's way.

Legislators from the main parties, who would not buy a suit without first trying it on, will be giving away billions of taxpayers' money with little idea of what the new buildings will look like - to a government that has given us such glories as the Cultural Centre, the Central Library and the new Star Ferry Pier.

The Democratic Party was careful to make its support conditional on the preservation of old trees at the present Central Government Offices. Since the government has said these trees will be preserved, the party now feels able to give away taxpayers' money with a clear conscience.

'Independent' legislator Albert Cheng King-hon has written that Tamar will pay for itself, since the site of the present government offices 'will sell for up to $10 billion' ('No reason for more delays', June 17). With one stroke of the pen, well-loved, human-scale buildings that are part of a core heritage corridor will be redeveloped into large tower blocks. An imaginative solution for Hong Kong!

The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, initially the party most vociferously opposed to the project, has lain down like a lamb, for reasons not entirely clear.

It is indeed a comfort to the community that, when critical issues such as the design of our last harbourfront reclamation are at stake, involving huge sums of taxpayers' money, our legislators can be relied upon to exercise their powers of oversight, and act as a check and balance on the executive.

As for the government, it is to be congratulated for its new-found political acumen. To use a World Cup analogy: government 1; community 0.

MARKUS SHAW, chairman, WWF Hong Kong

It's not too late

Whether the government needs and should build new headquarters at Tamar is a strategic decision which matters not just to those who live and work in Central or Admiralty but to everyone. It is not just a question of whether the Legislative Council should hand the government a cheque for $5.1 billion with totally inadequate justification. It is about the wholesale revamp of the entire Central district from Government Hill to Tamar to the harbourfront. It is also about good (as opposed to stubborn) governance.

The government should not try to fool the public with promises of 'open space' larger than Hong Kong Park. The planning definition of open space can include areas under flyovers - not the kind of place one would want to linger. We are still talking about concrete. This does not meet the needs of the community, which is for more open recreational space.

Groups such as Civic Exchange have demonstrated to devastating effect that the government does not deliver what it promises.

Even now, it is not too late for the government to offer the community more options and to discuss plans for use of the site with professionals.

Strong government does not mean a government which believes itself to be omniscient and infallible.

GLADYS LI, Central

Give us our harbourfront

Let's be blunt: the harbourfront at Tamar will be lost to us ordinary people forever if - I mean, when - the government complex is completed. It will be surrounded by spiked fences and iron gates manned by guards

Something happens when a person dons an official cap: he reduces old-age benefits to build fishponds and decorate his home, and becomes blind and deaf to the opinions of others.

There's abundant office space available at Cyberport if the government wants fresh air and togetherness. Give us a harbourfront of gardens and trees, clean up the harbour and our air, and spend our taxes wisely. I know my wishes are irrelevant to the government, but I state them for the record. I do not presume to speak for anyone but myself - unlike our chief executive, who authoritatively speaks for 70 per cent of us. It is hard to control my anger and feeling of helplessness in the face of such megalomania.

M. NG, Wan Chai

Icon of megalomania

Donald Tsang Yam-kuen has bargained with political parties and bullied opponents over Tamar. He has told urban planning critics that, as long as they are against him, he will not speak to them. He hasn't. He claimed 70 per cent of the public supported the government's plan to build at Tamar. A poll showed that, given a free choice, only a third would.

An analysis of the government's Tamar model identifies an overenthusiastic use of green, including showing parks where there will be roads, grass where there will be concrete and massive trees on the roofs of footbridges. All in all, it is a camouflage of massive roadworks.

Tomorrow, Legislative Council members will allocate $5.1 billion to build a high-security compound knotting together the legislative and the executive branches of the government on a large part of the last available land on the Central harbourfront, without having discussed the tender specifications.

What we do know is that 3,250 government employees will get a better view of the harbour and a park for their pleasure. Legislator Albert Cheng King-hon revealed the ultimate reason for this in his article 'No reason for more delays' (June 17): the creation of an icon. An icon for what? The misappropriation of power?