Millions left untouched in mega fund
Almost half the government's HK$100 million Mega Events Fund is lying unused less than 10 months before the expiry of the tourism-boosting initiative, set up to advance sports, arts and cultural projects.
'I believe there is close to HK$50 million left in the fund, whose deadline is next March. I don't know what will happen to all this money,' a government insider said.
The fund has been criticised for asking sports bodies to adhere to eligibility requirements including a minimum of 10,000 spectators.
It was set up in May 2009 to allocate HK$100 million over three years to help non-profit-making organisations stage major events. The initiative came six years after the controversial HK$100 million HarbourFest concerts, which were held following the 2003 Sars outbreak.
'We could easily have met this requirement, yet we didn't qualify when we approached the government for funds for the Bledisloe Cup [rugby match between Australia and New Zealand] last year. I really don't know what criteria they used to measure us,' said Hong Kong Rugby Football Union chairman Trevor Gregory.
Another sports official said: 'I'm not surprised [the government] cannot dole out the money. The requirements are too tough. They want a guaranteed 10,000 spectators. If we could do that, we wouldn't need government backing in the first place.'
So far six sports events - including dragon boating and dragon- and lion-dancing - have received awards totalling HK$32 million. It is unclear if the government will extend the initiative, intended to promote Hong Kong as the events capital of Asia, and top up the fund or close it down.
'The Mega Events Fund will come to a close at the end of March next year. We will have a complete review of the operation of the fund this year before deciding the way forward,' said a Commerce and Economic Development Bureau spokesman.
The fund has been declared a success despite not using all the money.
'All MEF-sponsored events which have been approved so far have attracted nearly 610,000 participants, including over 130,000 visitors. These events are also estimated to have created over 8,000 jobs,' said the spokesman.
'As for enhancing Hong Kong's image, the MEF-supported events have [...] boosted Hong Kong's status as an events capital.'
Sports events have received the bulk of the money, the latest being the UBS Hong Kong Golf Open in December, which received HK$8 million for promotional activities.
Other sports events which have benefited included the Hong Kong Tennis Classic - in 2010 it received HK$9 million and this January HK$5 million - the Dragon Boat Carnival (HK$5 million last year and HK$4 million for this month's event in Victoria Harbour) and a dragon- and lion-dancing extravaganza on January 1, which received HK$1 million. HK$18 million is estimated to have been spent on arts and cultural events.