Leung vows to meet arts hub shortfall

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 March, 2012, 12:00am


Chief executive hopeful Leung Chun-ying says that if he is elected on Sunday he will ask the Legislative Council for more money to fund the West Kowloon arts hub, which faces a shortfall of up to HK$16 billion.

Leung offered the most specific solution of the three candidates, who were asked by the South China Morning Post how they would solve the arts hub's financial problems.

Rival Henry Tang Ying-yen asked the Post to refer to his election platform - which says that he would increase resources to speed up construction but does not explain where the additional money would come from. Pan-democrat candidate Albert Ho Chun-yan said the government should provide tax incentives to encourage donations to meet the shortfall.

The pledge by Leung seems to contradict a promise given by the current administration to the Legislative Council in 2008, when it asked lawmakers to approve a HK$21.6 billion budget for the project.

Carrie Yau Tsang Ka-lai, who was the permanent secretary of the Home Affairs Bureau at the time, told Legco that the government would not inject more money into the project if lawmakers approved the budget. 'The worst scenario is to postpone the second-phase development,' Yau said at the time.

An academic estimated earlier this month that there could be a shortfall ranging from HK$9 billion to HK$16 billion in completing the project, given that construction costs had increased by almost 80 per cent since 2006, the year when a government consultant drew up the budget.

Leung said: 'If due to inflation or other cost factors it becomes necessary to obtain additional funding to complete the project, we are committed to apply for adequate funds from the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council.

'We recognise the importance of the West Kowloon Cultural District in putting Hong Kong on the map as an arts hub in the region. We, therefore, as far as practicable, give full support to its earliest development,' he said, adding he believed the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority would exercise due diligence in cost control.

Ho said while the government may need to foot the extra cost, it should explore other options.

'The government might need to shoulder the extra cost of the basement which was added afterwards to the [original] design and estimation in 2007,' Ho said, referring to Norman Foster's design of putting all vehicle traffic underground.

'However, the government should encourage the authority to consider other funding options, including private donations, issuing bonds and public private partnership,' he said, adding that tax incentives should be given to those who donated money to the project.

He warned that the government would be the de facto guarantor if the authority was to issue bonds to raise funds, so lawmakers should be allowed to vet the authority's financial prudence.

Legislators of the two major political parties said they would not approve extra funds unless the authority exhausted all financing options.

Ip Kwok-him of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, and the chairman of Legco's joint subcommittee monitoring the project, said he would not approve extra funds unless there were sufficient grounds.

The Democratic Party's Lee Wing-tat, the panel's vice-chairman, said: 'The government once promised that it would not come back for more money. We won't be easy.'