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Arts hub move may pave way for Carrie Lam’s bid for top job

Chief secretary’s hush-hush deal on Hong Kong version of famed Palace Museum will have won her admirers in Beijing

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 January, 2017, 1:11am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 January, 2017, 1:36am

Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor made two trips in a week to the capital and critics have been up in arms. The chief secretary must be lying, they claim, for saying she was not there to discuss her possible candidacy for the chief executive race. Secondly, she is building Hong Kong’s version of Beijing’s Palace Museum in the West Kowloon arts hub without public consultation.

Her critics missed the real point. There might not have been a single meeting with mainland honchos in which her candidacy was discussed. But the shock announcement about the Palace Museum, hitherto completely unknown, had everything to do with her demonstration of loyalty and ability in the eyes of the central government.

Hong Kong arts hub to get HK$3.5 billion replica of Beijing’s Palace Museum

What Beijing says goes. With respect to West Kowloon, first it was its preference to build a central terminus for the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link at the arts hub. Now, it’s the Palace Museum.

As chairwoman of the board of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, Lam executed Beijing’s wishes with efficiency and skill in this case.

Depending on who you believe, either the board didn’t know about it until late in November, or only a few most senior board members were briefed about it a couple of months before.

During all this time, Lam secured HK$3.5 billion in funding from the Jockey Club, thereby bypassing the need to go to the Legislative Council for money.

The height and size of the 10,000 square metre museum would fall just within the pre-approved land use inside the hub, making it unnecessary to apply to the Town Planning Board and to open it up for public feedback.

Carrie Lam says she extended Beijing trip to be with son, not to meet officials to discuss chief executive race

The project then hired Rocco Yim Sen-kee to be the lead architect. There are the usual grumbles about not holding a public tender. But the job didn’t go to a mainland or foreign architect. Yim is the city’s most bankable architect; his designs for the Yunnan and Guangdong museums and many others across the city speak for themselves. Short of hiring I.M. Pei, Yim is our safest choice.

Lam did all this and then presented a fait accompli. But what matters is that, at the end of the day, the project will benefit Hong Kong. You only wish the rest of the arts hub had been built with the same efficiency.

Beijing ought to be pleased.