Mega Events Fund must be axed
Prudent spending is the hallmark of public governance. Unfortunately, those vested with the power to spend do not always make it the guiding principle. A case in point is the government's Mega Events Fund, which hopes to raise the city's international profile by sponsoring splashy community events.
It does not take another inquiry to dig out problems with the HK$250 million fund. A value-for-money probe by the Audit Commission in April unearthed a raft of irregularities - inflated job numbers, dubious spending items, lack of invoice and payroll records, questionable ticket sales, and conflict of interest in staffing and procurement. After rounds of open hearings on the saga, a Legco committee came up with an equally damning report. It was unacceptable and inexcusable for the fund to be fraught with administrative and operational flaws, said the Public Accounts Committee. The two agencies overseeing the fund, the Commerce and Economic Bureau and the Tourism Commission, bear the brunt of the criticism.
That lawmakers have blasted the government for wasting taxpayers' money is to be expected. But the report would not be complete without examining the responsibility of the one vetting funding applications. It is disappointing that the committee has shied away from pointing the finger at fellow lawmaker Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung, who heads the Mega Events Fund assessment committee. Another lawmaker, Chan Kam-lam, who leads an annual dragon and lion dance festival and has been criticised by the auditor for questionable spending, also escaped attack. Chan denied any responsibility and said the fund imposed unreasonable requirements and restrictions on applicants. Blaming the system is easy; however, it does not change the reality that the festival he leads has flouted the rules.
The fund is so prone to abuse that the city's anti-graft agency has indeed advised the government to shut it down years ago. Unless officials can come up with better safeguards against misspending and abuse, termination appears to be a sensible step to take.