Subsidised arts groups keep chiefs' salaries under wraps

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 July, 2008, 12:00am

Five of nine organisations polled point to privacy concerns

Five of the nine major arts groups that receive government subsidies have refused to disclose the salaries of their chiefs.

Their stance, in a survey by the South China Morning Post, has brought calls for greater transparency in their operations and for more public debate on the amount of disclosure that is appropriate.

The Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, Chung Ying Theatre, Zuni Icosahedron and Hong Kong Ballet refused to reveal the salaries.

City Contemporary Dance Company, which has received more than HK$14 million from the government for 2008-09, said its managing director's salary was below the corresponding post of senior government manager as advised by the Home Affairs Bureau.

But it did not give a figure and a government spokesman said there was no such post in the bureaucracy.

Government rules introduced in the past financial year require arts groups that receive HK$10 million or more and for which the subsidy accounts for more than half their operating income to reveal their top three salary tiers in their annual reports.

The Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, Hong Kong Sinfonietta, Hong Kong Repertory Theatre, Hong Kong Dance Company, Hong Kong Ballet and City Contemporary Dance Company all receive more than HK$10 million. But it could not be confirmed whether they met the second criterion, and their annual reports for 2007-08 will not be published until October.

In response to the Post's survey, conducted last month, only the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, Hong Kong Repertory Theatre and Hong Kong Dance Company agreed to disclose their chiefs' salary range, while the City Comtemporary Dance Company disclosed that its arts director received no remuneration.

The Post reported yesterday that government-funded welfare groups were similarly reticent in the survey, with just seven of 30 organisations being willing to disclose their chief executives' salaries.

The chief executive of non-subsidised Spring-Time Group, Clifton Ko Chi-sum, said the subvented arts groups should disclose staff salary levels and expenses in detail.

'If the expenses are not open, some groups may use the public money to hire superstars while keeping the public in the dark,' Mr Ko said. 'They are using public money, so they are obligated to be monitored by the public.'

In 2007, the government started a new funding mechanism to support 10 major performing arts groups with amounts ranging from HK$4.6 million to HK$56.5 million. But one of the 10, Theatre Ensemble, broke with the funding scheme in March to seek more flexibility in its development.

A spokeswoman for Chung Ying Theatre said the Home Affairs Department's subvention arrangements did not require it to publicly disclose staff salaries.

It also rejected the inquiry on the grounds of privacy and data confidentiality, as did the Philharmonic and Chinese Orchestra.

Zuni Icosahedron said the disclosure of individual salaries would need approval from the board, but the group had not replied further by last night. The theatre group's programme and creative director, Mathias Woo Yan-wai, said the responsibility for disclosing expense details, including chiefs' salaries, should rest with the funding agency.

Hong Kong Institute of Contemporary Culture chairwoman Ada Wong Ying-kay said more public discussion was needed on the issue.

She said the government had sufficient mechanisms to monitor the arts groups' operations. Ms Wong said the public should not make judgment on the use of public money only based on individual salaries, but the overall contributions made by the groups in society.

Meanwhile, the Po Leung Kuk clarified yesterday that the salary of its executive director was paid from the kuk's income, not from donations, as stated in yesterday's report.