TDC's defence of subsidised exhibitions just rings hollow

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 March, 2012, 12:00am


As to whether we are talking about an ugly monstrosity, could that have to do with personal opinion, too little knowledge and/or a hidden agenda?

Cliff Wallace, managing director,
HK Convention and Exhibition Centre
Letters to the editor, March 2

I love flattery, the more of it the better. It feels so good, hmmm ...

The writer of one letter to the editor, a Jean Afford, obliged me last Sunday by saying I had hit the nail on the head with a column opposing construction of another 'empty shell' on the harbour front for the Trade Development Council.

The TDC has not actually gone as far yet as saying it will build one. It has only made rumblings about wanting more space. I think it has its eye on that home of future empty shells, the West Kowloon Reclamation, but I have not yet teased out this admission.

My column got the usual screech in reply from TDC Supremo, Jack So, and we left it at that, column from me, letter back from him, bim-bam. We've danced this dance before.

Imagine my surprise then to see another screech on the general subject in Friday's paper from Cliff Wallace, Mr So's underling in charge of what is effectively the TDC's well-tamed property arm, the convention centre.

Not only did Mr Wallace make Ms Afford his target instead of me, but he twisted her words. He made it seem she called the convention centre an 'empty shell' when she was actually referring to general public building plans around the harbour.

Okay, call me back to the ring then. Mr Wallace made much in his letter of the convention centre's success in holding exhibitions and says its business is customer-driven.

Could you please tell me then, Sir, why the TDC needed HK$374.5 million of public money last year to stage these exhibitions? If it is such a big success, why do we have to keep subsidising it? Why do these customers who drive it get a free ride on it every year?

And, talking of subsidies, you might want to call out a proper surveyor to tell us what your government-built facility is worth in present market conditions.

I see a rent and rates item in the TDC accounts of only HK$17.3 million a year but, surely, this cannot be all. Be transparent with us, please. How big a hidden property subsidy do these exhibitions get at present market prices for equivalent property?

Then we get the matter of the new competition law. If your customers like your facilities so much, Mr Wallace, why does the TDC need exemption from rules against anti-competitive practices? Do I take this as an admission that you don't think your shows can compete with others on a level playing field? If you deny it, why the exemption? Of all my questions do please answer that one first.

Among other questions, why do we keep using Hong Kong public money to promote mainland-made goods that bring us little benefit? In his last letter to the editor, your Supremo justified this practice on the grounds that much of these goods are Hong Kong re-exports.

Does he really not know that re-exports are just a tax dodge whereby we help mainland exporters evade mainland taxes on profits? If he really thinks we have an army of re-export workers who open boxes of mainland-made goods to perform finishing work on them, could he please name some of these people? The only finishing work we do is on the paperwork. None dare call it money laundering.

But let's get back to that quote above, which I excerpted from Mr Wallace's letter. He speaks of a hidden agenda. That's not on, Sir. If you think there is a hidden agenda then declare what you think it is. For instance, I think you have a hidden agenda to build an unnecessary exhibition centre on the Kowloon waterfront.

And if you don't like what I say, you have my e-mail address below and may call me any name you want on it. But I think it's a cheap shot to pick on my fan club.