Rowse set to tell 'full story' of the HarbourFest saga in book

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 December, 2008, 12:00am

Retiring InvestHK director general Mike Rowse will release his version of the HarbourFest saga in a tell-all tome by the middle of next year.

'I'm really looking forward to that. Most of the work has already been done,' he said yesterday.

Tentatively titled No Minister, the book is one of two planned by Mr Rowse, who turns 60 on Sunday, and follows a July court ruling that effectively cleared him of wrongdoing in the controversial HK$100 million concert series in 2003.

The book will be the first time Mr Rowse has publicly given his account of the HarbourFest controversy. He retires tomorrow.

The other book he has planned will be an autobiography.

'I know that there were issues and I think they've been exhaustively discussed from one perspective,' Mr Rowse said yesterday.

'I don't think the full story has been told yet and that's why one of my books is going to tell it.

'I think HarbourFest illustrates a number of important constitutional and administrative points. I don't think those have been focused on at all. I think the immediate concern was that a lynch mob was on the rampage, they had a rope in hand and they needed someone to hang. And they did.'

A civil-service disciplinary panel fined Mr Rowse HK$156,660 and severely reprimanded him over the handling of the HarbourFest concerts.

To help revive the economy after the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003, the government agreed to underwrite HarbourFest for up to HK$100 million. The American Chamber of Commerce was given the task of putting the event together.

'We didn't decide to support HarbourFest,' Mr Rowse said. 'That decision was taken by the economic relaunch working group in my absence. I was in Chicago doing investment promotion. It was only a couple of months after the decision was made that it began to be criticised.

'We then had a choice as a department - we could either abandon AmCham and leave them to take the criticism alone or we could stick with them and deliver. It seemed to me that, since our job was to reach out to the international business community, if we had run away from them and left them on their own, we might as well have closed the department down. So it was conscious decision not to run away. I knew then that we would be subject to a lot of criticism, most of it unjustified.'

Despite the criticism and finger-pointing surrounding HarbourFest, Mr Rowse cited his department's work in helping to revive the Sars-hit economy in 2003 as a successful highlight of his 34-year civil-service career.