Councils to stay pragmatic on HK$100m after goose fiasco

They're taking a more pragmatic approach to spending their one-off HK$100 million grants - with local facilities and health care the order of the day

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 April, 2013, 8:18am

At least 12 district councils are planning projects to improve local facilities and health care using their HK$100 million from Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

Councillors say they are taking a more pragmatic approach after criticism of district bodies spending millions on building statues.

Leung in his maiden policy speech in January announced a one-off grant of HK$100 million for each of the 18 districts to carry out projects to improve their neighbourhoods. The funding was intended to go towards large-scale activities or services for local communities. But concerns were raised earlier this year about public funds being wasted on "landmarks" in the past.

In Tsuen Wan, for example, the council spent HK$1.2 million building a goose statue in Sham Tseng in honour of the roast goose dish that put it on the map.

Now, after months of discussion, at least 12 councils have come up with more modest plans. Tsuen Wan wants to build a podium over the Sai Lau Kok garden to improve pedestrian flow near the Tsuen Wan MTR station. But its district councillors insist their pragmatism has nothing to do with recent criticism over the goose statue.

Meanwhile, Central and Western District councillors plan to use their grant to turn four unused piers near the Western wholesale food market into recreational space, including cafes and a cycling path. Democrat Cheng Lai-king, a district councillor, said they had also considered converting a Sheung Wan park into a "cultural piazza" for performances. But they thought better of that idea after the controversy over landmark spending. "The council chairman said we were lucky we didn't propose anything contentious," Cheng said. "Our councillors were more restrained."

On Kowloon side, the councillors of Yau Tsim Mong District have also been exercising restraint. It was under attack in January after it emerged that councillors endorsed a plan last year to erect a HK$1.6 million statue on Soy Street. The council plans to seek approval to use its grant for a community centre for ethnic minorities.

Pro-government councillor Derek Hung Chiu-wah said they "hope there won't be a similar [controversy] with the grant" this time. He said they wanted to use the cash for "things that can benefit the people".

But Chan Wai Keung, also of Yau Tsim Mong District Council, questioned whether the community centre was really a top priority for residents. Chan added that the district councils had not been given enough time to debate the use of the funds. He also indicated that he was disappointed about the Soy Street statue plan, which is going ahead.

Elsewhere in the city, district councillors in Wan Chai, Southern, Kowloon City, Sham Shui Po, Wong Tai Sin, Islands, Northern and Tai Po are also considering similar plans to improve their community facilities. And next month Kwai Tsing councillors are expected to look into providing a community health check scheme.