Cover-up or negligence? Lawmakers probe handling of HK$250m Mega Events Fund

That's the question lawmakers are asking officials who failed to mention graft-buster's advice to shut HK$250m Mega Events Fund

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 May, 2014, 4:55am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 May, 2014, 4:55am

Lawmakers probing the handling of the government's HK$250 million Mega Events Fund yesterday accused officials of serious negligence or a cover-up when they failed to divulge key information in a funding application.

Commerce and tourism officials facing the Legislative Council's Public Accounts Committee for the second time were asked why they did not make known the graft-buster's advice that the fund be shut down, in an application for HK$150 million in 2012.

On Monday, lawmakers revealed that the fund's secretariat, at a Legco Finance Committee meeting in 2012, chose not to mention that the Independent Commission Against Corruption had suggested two years earlier that the fund hand back all unused funds and cease operations.

The fund was set up in 2009 to promote Hong Kong as the events capital of Asia.

Committee member Alan Leong Kah-kit asked why the graft-busters' advice had seemingly been ignored. "The ICAC's opinion must have been linked to the fate of the fund … but it was completely absent in the secretariat's document for Legco on April 27, 2012," said Leong, of the Civic Party. "[This] was either intentional or serious negligence."

The hearing follows an Audit Commission report released last month that criticised the use and monitoring of the fund. It said the ICAC had in 2010 questioned the need to continue with the fund and suggested unused money be returned to the government.

Yesterday, Permanent Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Andrew Wong Ho-yuen, said the graft-buster's view "had been taken into account".

The ICAC's Corruption Prevention Advisory Committee in 2010 told the Tourism Commission, which manages the fund, to "issue more stringent guidelines for staff in evaluating events that involved substantial grants and carried a commercial name".

"We have executed all advice offered by the ICAC," Wong told lawmakers. "Our suggestion to continue with the fund was based on other factors," he said, referring to brand-building and tourism promotion. "The ICAC's view on the fund was taken into consideration … just like we take citizens' views into consideration."

Committee chairman Abraham Razack was not convinced: "That was the ICAC, not an average citizen."

The organisers of one fund beneficiary - the Dragon and Lion Dance Extravaganza - also came under fire yesterday for lengthy delays in submitting its accounts. Auditors accused it of incomplete accounting. Its organising committee - which includes at least five members of the Beijing-loyalist Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong - failed to meet the May 1 deadline to submit financial reports for this year's event to the Tourism Commission.

DAB lawmaker Chan Kam-lam, who heads the dance event's organising committee, denied they were "buying time to manipulate the numbers".

The event had said it would create 3,000 jobs for performers. Ultimately, there were 1,850 performers. Police are understood to have opened an investigation after members of the Labour and Democratic parties filed a report on potential conflicts of interest.