HK$250m Mega Events Fund bungling is 'inexcusable', say lawmakers
'Grave dismay' as lawmakers condemn government's mismanagement of tourism fund that was fraught with exaggerations and irregularities
It was unacceptable and inexcusable for a HK$250 million big-events fund to be fraught with administrative and operational flaws, lawmakers said in censuring government mismanagement that led to a waste of taxpayers' money.
Members of the Legislative Council's Public Accounts Committee condemned the incompetence of the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau and the Tourism Commission in managing the Mega Events Fund - which was already criticised by the audit watchdog in April.
The fund was set up in 2009 to sponsor events and promote Hong Kong as the events capital of Asia. Its chairman, Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung sits on the executive and legislative councils.
"The committee expresses grave dismay and finds [the fund's mismanagement] inexcusable," committee chairman Abraham Razack said.
In its report yesterday, the committee echoed the Audit Commission's April 16 report that slammed operators of the fund for overstating turnouts at events it sponsored.
The operators were found to have exaggerated the number of jobs the fund created and failed to chase up invoices for expenses.
The audit also revealed that corruption investigators had advised the government in 2010 to shut down the fund.
Committee members Alan Leong Kah-kit, Kenneth Leung and Wong Yuk-man, speaking in their personal capacities, called for the fund to be terminated, given its operational flaws and mismanagement of accounts.
"The fund should've packed up a long time ago … It has been run in such a slack way," Leong said. "There is also so much mismanagement of accounts and money."
However, it was not within the committee's jurisdiction to assess whether the fund should continue, he said.
Fellow legislator Chan Kam-lam, whose funded event was one of those caught failing to account for certain expenses, denied any responsibility.
"As an applicant to the fund, I feel the fund has imposed unreasonable requirements and restrictions on applicants that were controversial and made them face unnecessary punishment," said Chan, lead organiser of the annual Dragon and Lion Dance Extravaganza.
Razack said his committee's report focused on the "controlling officials" responsible for the fund - in this case the bureau and the Tourism Commission - so no individuals were criticised.
The Democratic Party has referred the dragon dance parade to the Independent Commission Against Corruption over its missing records and irregularities and said it would also take the matter to the police.
Despite this, Lam was reappointed to his post last month.
He dodged questions over his responsibility, saying the fund had "followed operational guidelines", though he admitted there were problems.
The committee also noted the fund's failure to return surpluses of public money. The ICAC had suggested in 2010 that unused money be returned.
Since the fund was created in 2009, it had approved 24 events, of which only six were new. This was unacceptable, the committee said.
Razack also pointed out that none of the fund's staff had any professional accounting experience, which could have contributed to money being wasted.
The committee agreed with advice from the audit watchdog for the Tourism Commission to step up checks and controls over the operation of events.