HK$245m consultancy bill raises eyebrows

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 April, 2008, 12:00am

Many studies overlapped, legislators learn

Taxpayers are footing a bill of more than HK$240million for hundreds of consultancy studies recently commissioned by the government, research by the South China Morning Post has found.

The studies, many of which will not be released to the public, have raised concerns over whether the money has been well spent.

Government replies to legislators' questions show 37 departments and bureaus paid for 280 consultancy studies in 2007-08 and 2008-09, costing HK$ 245 million.

Some appear to be similar or overlapping. The Commerce and Economic Development Bureau and the Financial Services and Treasury Bureau commissioned studies on Disneyland's financial arrangements.

The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department commissioned a study on private-sector involvement in the Sheung Shui slaughterhouse, while the Food and Health Bureau commissioned one on a 'tender document for developing a poultry slaughtering and processing plant'.

The Commerce and Economic Development Bureau commissioned the law firm Arculli, Fong & Ng and Australian firm Gilbert and Tobin to advise on the introduction of a competition law, at a cost of more than HK$16 million.

The bureau paid HK$891,000 to the Office of the Telecommunications Authority for a study on government electronic trading services. It also paid HK$656,640 to iASPEC, which provides software services, to review the 'technical architecture and delivery of government electronic trading services'.

Fewer than one-third of the studies have been made public.

Civic Party leader Audrey Eu Yuet-mee questioned whether the studies provided value for money. She said the lack of transparency made it difficult to judge whether they were even necessary.

'The total bill is quite significant ... Since many of the studies are not released to the public, there is no way to ascertain if they are value for money.'

James Sung Lap-kung of City University said the hefty bill called into question the quality of governance.

'It would reinforce the impression that our civil servants have a culture to brief out their problems for solutions from outside,' he said.

To avoid duplication among the departments, the academic suggested the Central Policy Unit - the government's think-tank - co-ordinate the studies or set up a high-level research institute to do the work, similar to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences under the State Council.

A spokesman for the Financial Services and Treasury Bureau said consultants could only be engaged when the administration did not have the expertise. Financial consultants could be engaged when special knowledge or speed were required, or when the work had to be seen to be independent and that a report by renowned consultants would enhance 'the credibility of the exercise to the government's advantage', the spokesman said.

Selection of consultants had to be made competitively and departments should monitor the performance to ensure requirements were met.