Tien set to head tourism body

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 March, 2007, 12:00am

Move is a political trade-off between Liberal Party and the government, says critic

Liberal Party chairman James Tien Pei-chun is likely to take over the chairmanship of the Hong Kong Tourism Board after Donald Tsang Yam-kuen wins an expected second term in Sunday's chief executive election.

Two sources familiar with the situation said the government had invited Mr Tien to be the new chairman to replace party vice-chairwoman Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee, who will step down at the end of the month after six years.

The Liberal Party is eager to retain its leadership of the statutory body and has recommended Vincent Fang Kang, the party legislator representing the wholesale and retail sector in the Legislative Council, to take the chairmanship. Mr Fang also sits on the Tourism Board.

However, the sources said the government finally decided to invite Mr Tien instead of Mr Fang to head the board after negotiations, and in return 'the party will fully support the incumbent chief executive's re-election campaign and his new administration'.

Mr Tien could not be reached for comment on the invitation yesterday.

Earlier, Mr Tien had threatened to quit Mr Tsang's cabinet and not cast his vote if relations could not be improved.

Mr Tien is one of the 796 Election Committee members that will elect the chief executive. However, on Friday he said he would cast his vote for Mr Tsang, and the party would rally to support Mr Tsang's re-election bid.

A party source said the Liberals were keen to keep their leadership of the Tourism Board, as it involved several sectoral interests, including retail, catering, tourism and transport, with party members in all four functional constituencies.

Democratic Party legislator Fred Li Wah-ming said while it was natural for a political party to look after its interests, it appeared this was a political trade-off between the party and the government. 'Mr Tien has no relevant experience. The government has to justify the appointment, as the post has been taken ... by the party's core member over six years,' he said.

The Tourism Board, a government-subsidised body, was founded in April 2001. It spends more than HK$100 million each year to market and promote Hong Kong as a destination worldwide.

However, critics say its performance does not provide value for money. Some 25.25 million visitors arrived last year, short of the board's target of 27 million. The Audit Commission has carried out a review of the board's spending.

A government official said chairing the board would not be easy, as the public had high expectations of the government and the board.

The source said it was difficult to find an executive director for the board and two experienced public figures had turned down the government's invitation.

On Friday, the government announced that incumbent executive director Clara Chong Ming-wah had agreed to extend her tenure for a month until April 18.

The executive director is paid HK$4 million a year.