Hong Kong lawmakers blast government for not challenging Disney’s ‘take it or leave it’ stance on funding deal

But commerce minister claims taxpayers stand to lose more if proposed HK$5.45 billion to revamp theme park in city is not approved

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 April, 2017, 11:30pm
UPDATED : Friday, 28 April, 2017, 11:35pm

A take it or leave it position has been taken by Walt Disney Company as it seeks Hong Kong lawmakers’ approval for a HK$5.45 billion funding application to revamp its theme park in the city, the commerce minister said.

But instead of serving as a trump card to secure the final votes for passage at the Legislative Council’s Finance Committee meeting on Friday, the position sparked anger among lawmakers. Some accused Disney of adopting an arrogant attitude and the government of a weak and incompetent stance.

Sharp rise in Hong Kong tourist arrivals brings hope that slump is over

“Disney confirmed that ‘take it or leave it’ would be the right description of its attitude,” commerce secretary Greg So Kam-leung said in recalling how the government posed a lawmaker’s question to the company.

The partnership between the Hong Kong government and the US firm has long been criticised as an “unequal deal” in which the media giant receives millions in royalties and management fees even when the park loses money.

So, who was repeatedly urged by lawmakers to renegotiate a better deal, took a hard line at Friday’ s meeting, which ended without a vote after a five-hour debate.

“The next administration will not get better terms,” he said, refuting an idea floated by some lawmakers that chief executive-elect Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor would be able to do better.

Hong Kong Disneyland records loss for second year in a row, as mainland visitor numbers dwindle

“If we wait longer, there would be even less money left in [taxpayer’s] wallets because the costs would be higher,” So said. He urged lawmakers to pass the request as soon as possible.

The controversial HK$10.9 billion expansion project, due to open next year, is to feature themed zones based on the blockbuster Frozen and Marvel superhero films, as well as the transformation of Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Last month, Walt Disney Company agreed to inject an extra HK$350 million into its Hong Kong theme park expansion plan and waive part of its management fees for two years as a concession after renewed public outcry over the deal’s “unequal” financing. But critics said the moves were not significant enough to benefit the city.

“If Disney uses this [take it or leave it] attitude to ask money from taxpayers, it would eventually lose Hongkongers’ love,” Democratic Party lawmaker Hui Chi-fung said.

The furious lawmaker went on to accuse the government of assuming a weak stance in negotiating the terms with Disney.

“Secretary, if I were Disney, I would look down upon you too,” he told So. “Why don’t you resign?”

This attitude ... would eventually lose Hongkongers’ love
Hui Chi-fung, lawmaker

The treatment of Hong Kong’s theme park stands in marked contrast with that of Paris Disneyland, of which the American media giant has a share of almost 90 per cent.

“Why are the terms of Paris Disneyland so much better than ours?” pro-establishment lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun asked as he questioned whether the government had made a sufficient effort.

The Paris park, recording losses in 17 of its 24 years in operation, saw its US parent waive both royalties and management fees many times, with the latest two-year round starting from last year. The waived amount in the fourth quarter of last year alone reached 21 million (HK$178 million), according to its financial filings.

But under the city’s plan, only about up to HK$114.4 million in adjustable management fees could be waived during the two-year period, based on its financial figures last year.