Politics should not get in the way of Palace Museum project

Criticism of the plan has more to do with Carrie Lam’s expected bid for city’s top job than the efficacy of the development itself

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 January, 2017, 1:56am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 January, 2017, 1:56am

The controversy over the plan to build a Hong Kong version of Beijing’s famed Palace Museum is the latest example of how a good thing can become a victim of politics. Despite general public support for the project, it is being used by some to undermine Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor ahead of her expected bid to run in the chief executive election in March. The unwarranted attacks on Lam – including in the Legislative Council – serve only to undermine a well-intentioned initiative that complements the city’s vision of building a world-class arts hub in West Kowloon.

Defending the HK$3.5 billion museum at a Legco meeting on Friday, Lam said she had a clear conscience in how she handled the project. But she did not convince pan-democrats, who questioned whether Lam was using it to gain Beijing’s blessings for her run at the top job. The meeting heard that the idea was first initiated by the Palace Museum chief on the sidelines of a culture ceremony in September 2015. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying formally took it up with Beijing three months later. Lam has said she considered her bid for the top job only after Leung’s decision last month not to seek re-election. As such, it seems unlikely she would have had the chief executive race on her mind while working on the project over the past year.

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Judging from the criticism in some sectors, Lam was probably right in saying that the project would have been foiled had it been pursued through the usual channels. It is good that the government has given a thorough account of the decision-making process as well as disclosing details of the agreement in full. The transparency is to be welcomed.

It remains unclear whether the controversy will subside if Lam resigns later this week, as reported, to stand in the chief executive election. While the attacks may well continue, it would be more constructive for the community to focus on the way forward. The public consultation on the museum project beginning today will be a good opportunity to flesh out details on what is essentially a worthy endeavour.