Minister faces flak on cost of hosting Games
Home affairs chief Tsang Tak-sing faces a political furore for underestimating the costs of the East Asian Games and transferring the leftover funding to a project for Hong Kong athletes without obtaining approval from the legislature.
The Legislative Council's public accounts committee released a strongly worded report - using words such as 'grave dismay', 'unacceptable', 'appalling' and 'inexcusable' - to describe the Home Affairs Bureau's handling of the 2009 Games, the first large-scale international multisports held in the city.
The committee found it unacceptable that the figure Tsang cited to the Legco finance committee for the full costs of the Games when applying for the funding turned out to be grossly underestimated.
He estimated the spending to be about HK$240 million, yet the actual cost was HK$423.9 million, according to public accounts committee chairman Philip Wong Yu-hong.
Paul Chan Mo-po, deputy chairman of the committee said: 'We cannot accept that the government has left out the direct expenditure of HK$132.8 million incurred by the various government bureaus and departments [in order] to [win] support for hosting the Games.
'It is wrong, not only for this but also for the implementation other big projects. The government should let Hong Kong people know exactly how much public money would be spent. The direct and indirect cost incurred by government bureaus and departments should also be listed out clearly.'
The committee said Tsang had no discretionary power to transfer HK$10 million in unused funding to finance a legacy project that supports Hong Kong athletes' development without seeking agreement from Legco in advance.
'We agreed that this was a meaningful project and that we would have supported it [if Tsang asked]. But then the funding should be allocated according to formal procedure. The government should seek lawmakers' approval before giving out the money,' Chan said.
While Wong said the committee's focus was to assess the Games effectiveness in terms of planning, organisation and implementation and it was not looking at the accountability of any official, some lawmakers said Tsang should be held accountable. Tanya Chan said: 'The home affairs chief did not have the authority to allocate the HK$10 million, so he should at least shoulder the political responsibility.' She said the government should consider carefully whether Tsang's actions constituted any offence under the law.
Democratic Party lawmaker Cheung Man-kwong said Tsang had damaged the government's fiscal rules and set a bad example.
People Power lawmaker Wong Yuk-man said he would raise a motion debate on the report to condemn Tsang during the Legco meeting on Wednesday.
Tsang said the government would read the report carefully before offering any response.
The Home Affairs Bureau said last night there had been no overspending on the Games. Expenditure was HK$291.1 million, with a surplus of HK$11.9 million. The calculation excluded spending of HK132.8 million incurred by government bureaus and departments.
'It is also legal and reasonable for the East Asian Games Company [set up to run the Games] to allocate the HK$10 million sponsored funding surplus to a legacy project for athletes,' a bureau spokesman said.
The number of athletes who competed in 262 events in 22 sports at the 2009 East Asian Games in Hong Kong