My Take

Time for troubled Mega Events Fund to be put out of its misery

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 May, 2014, 3:55am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 May, 2014, 3:55am

Tourism officials who help oversee the troubled Mega Events Fund must think we are pretty stupid. It transpires that the Independent Commission Against Corruption had told the fund to disband and return unused money as early as 2010. Yet the fund's secretariat suppressed the information and went to the legislature to ask for more money to the tune of HK$150 million two years later.

Andrew Wong Ho-yuen, permanent secretary for the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, told legislators this week the advice to return unused money did not mean shutting down the fund.

The fund operates under the Tourism Commission overseen by the bureau. "Our interpretation is that [the ICAC] only advised us to return the surplus funds instead of asking us to cease operation," Wong said.

What? How did he think the fund could function if it had no money? Wait, I get it. The geniuses at the bureau must think once the unused money was returned, the fund would have no money, leaving it free, indeed obligated, to apply to Legco for more.

In the event, the tourism honchos did something better. The fund kept the money and applied for more, all the while not telling lawmakers about the ICAC advice.

The graft-buster saw no reason for the fund to continue because the local economy had picked up enough since the onset of the global financial crisis.

And I thought I was being radical many columns back when I suggested the fund's chief, Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung, the Executive Council member, should be sacked and the fund scrapped.

This was with hindsight of its funding debacles, such as overstating attendances and job creation at sponsored events and spending irregularities under the annual Dragon and Lion Dance Extravaganza.

The annual one-day event took a total of HK$3.9 million from the fund between 2011 and last year. But its organisers - closely associated with The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong - still failed to provide a full accounting after the government auditor rounded on its inadequate bookkeeping.

The ICAC had already warned against it before all these problems. It's time to take its 2010 advice and put the fund out of its misery.