Public should be informed on finances, says lawmaker

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 September, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 September, 2006, 12:00am

More vigorous measures should be adopted to ensure Disney keeps the public in the picture regarding its financial performance, lawmakers said.

The Democratic Party said taxpayers had the right to know whether the billions of dollars the government invested in the theme park had been value for money.

The party has already urged the Legislative Council economic services panel to invite officials from the government and Disney to a meeting to discuss the theme park's first year of operations.

But the DAB said people should be more tolerant of the American entertainment giant, saying it was still learning how best to operate in a Chinese market.

Records show that the 126-hectare theme park and its relevant infrastructure works cost taxpayers up to HK$29.35 billion.

This included HK$4 billion in land premium, equity injections of HK$3.25 billion and a HK$6.1 billion loan on which repayments will only begin 10 years after the opening.

The amount also covered HK$15.2 billion for reclamation, compensation for affected parties and the construction of roads and the adjacent lake, as well as HK$798 million worth of dividends that the government waived to help the MTR Corporation finance the rail line.

In return, it is estimated that Hong Kong will reap HK$148 billion in economic benefits over 40 years, according to the government.

Democrat legislator Fred Li Wah-ming said the government owed the community an answer on whether the money had been well spent.

While he noted that Disney had been more forthcoming in disclosing limited information in the second half of its operations, he called for more vigorous steps to enhance transparency.

'Disney is not a private club. Billions of taxpayers money have been spent on the project. The public will be very dissatisfied if their requests for more figures are denied,' Mr Li said.

'They have the right to know whether Disney has been doing a good job. And if something has gone wrong, someone should bear the responsibility.'

The lawmaker questioned whether the economic benefits had been exaggerated.

'What about things like the sales of souvenirs and proceeds from catering? What's the overall profit? Is the government getting dividends already? I don't think these figures should be withheld on the grounds that they are commercially sensitive,' he said.

But Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong legislator Chan Kam-lam said the public should be patient.

'It has only been a year since its opening,' he said. 'People have been very demanding at the beginning. I think it's time to let things go back to normal and give Disney more room to improve.'

He said the public had pinned too much hope on Disney as the driving force to rejuvenate the tourism industry.

The company also failed to capitalise on the local market, while initial chaos and negative publicity had aggravated public grievances, he said.