Lawmakers' HK$74m footbridge to get their lunch is a misuse of public funds

Albert Cheng says the proposal for a footbridge extension linking Legco building with Citic Tower makes no financial sense and smacks of abuse

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 June, 2013, 2:50am

The relocation of the central government offices and the Legislative Council to the relatively isolated Tamar area has left people who work there with little choice when it comes to lunchtime dining. They either eat in-house or go across the road to one of a handful of restaurants inside Citic Tower. Victoria City Restaurant is popular.

Last month, an apparently insignificant news article appeared about the approval of a project by Legco's public works subcommittee. It involves extending the existing footbridge that links Citic Tower with the central government offices and the Admiralty MTR station, to connect the Legco building. The extension is expected to cost more than HK$74 million and the project will be completed by June 2015.

We can only assume lawmakers' action was prompted by their arrogance

The proposed project will have to be further approved by Legco's Finance Committee before being given the final green light. But no legislator has objected to the proposal so far. The media seems uninterested.

Only Labour Party lawmaker Cyd Ho Sau-lan has expressed concern over the huge maintenance costs, while Democratic Party legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing complained about the inconsistent "green" approach, saying the old part of the footbridge could become an aesthetic eyesore.

In fact, this project is a case of transfer of interest and an abuse of public funds, and should not be treated lightly. Legco members and staff working at the central government offices will directly benefit from the project. The secondary beneficiaries will be the Citic Tower management and the restaurants and shops there.

At present, there are two footbridges linking the central government offices with Admiralty Centre, where the MTR is located, while the footbridge at Citic Tower is also connected to the central government offices. There is no need for an extension to link up Legco with nearby buildings just to serve legislators.

Most importantly, it is the role of legislators to monitor the government and ensure there is no misuse of public funds. Clearly, in this case, our watchdog has failed. We should not tolerate such blatant double standards.

I can understand why the pro-government camp would approve the project; they seem to believe they are better than the rest of us. But the fact that the opposition and pan-democratic lawmakers, who often advocate public justice and claim they speak for the people, are behaving in the same way is hard to stomach.

They even tried to justify their ridiculous action by saying that because Hong Kong has three branches of government - a legislature, an executive, and a judiciary - it would be inappropriate for legislators to walk through the government building to get to their lunch venue every day. How absurd.

In fact, the fundamental problem is that we have a group of legislators who are both physically and intellectually lazy. If they really want to resolve the lunch issue, there are other easier and cheaper options.

One option is to invite a restaurant to provide catering for Legco; another is for Victoria City Restaurant to take over the running of the existing canteen; a third would be to provide a shuttle bus during lunch hours. Any of these would be cheaper than building a footbridge extension.

We can only assume lawmakers' action was prompted by their colossal egos and arrogance. But they are also on dangerous ground as the footbridge extension will almost certainly bring direct benefits to commercial tenants, landlords and the management of Citic Tower.

Legco is a respectable place, one of Hong Kong's most powerful public bodies. Lawmakers, especially those directly elected through geographical constituencies, are mandated by the people to represent the people.

The council acts as a watchdog to monitor the administration and its operation in order to prevent any waste of resources, abuse of power or misuse of public funds.

On the surface, the footbridge affair may seem an insignificant funding issue, but it involves matters of integrity and principle.

Fundamentally, it is no different from the controversy of former anti-corruption chief Timothy Tong Hin-ming, who is alleged to have used public funds on lavish banquets to enhance his personal network.

Having a clean and accountable government and public bodies is one of Hong Kong's cherished core values. The Tong case has tarnished the squeaky-clean reputation of the Independent Commission Against Corruption. Now our Legco members are doing something similar.

Who is going to watch the watchdog? Every Hongkonger needs to exercise his or her civic duty by sending a letter to Legco to demand that the footbridge project be scrapped. This is the only way to preserve the remnants of the council's good reputation.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator.