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West Kowloon Cultural District

Recruitment of Hong Kong Palace Museum architect may have violated racial discrimination laws

Selection criteria changed from a ‘local Chinese’ to a ‘local’ a day after equality watchdog issues warning

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 January, 2017, 6:32pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 January, 2017, 6:32pm

The West Kowloon Cultural Authority amended the selection criteria for the design architect of the controversial Hong Kong Palace Museum from “a local Chinese” to “a local”, a day after the equality watchdog warned that singling out candidates in this way could have violated racial discrimination laws.

Confusingly, a list of requirements included in a paper submitted to the Legislative Council by the Chief Secretary’s Office last Friday mentioned the board had wanted “a local architect”.

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But a 16-page report in Chinese issued by the office and the authority on Tuesday said “a local Chinese architect who must understand Chinese arts and cultures” was a key consideration when filling the post for the HK$3.5 billion project.

Then the latest paper, released on Thursday by the authority’s consultation panel, stated the museum should be designed by “a local architect” who had a good understanding of the vision of the West Kowloon Cultural District and Chinese art and culture.

This followed a statement by the Equal Opportunities Commission on Wednesday that under the Race Discrimination Ordinance it might be unlawful for employers to single out people of a particular race for a job, unless they could prove race was a Genuine Occupational Qualification (GOQ).

“Where race is a GOQ for a job, it may not be unlawful for employers to make an employment decision on the ground of race,” it said.

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The authority earlier admitted the board, chaired by Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, had approved the appointment of Rocco Yim Sen-kee as the design architect last November without tender – nearly six months before Lam announced the plans.

Critics have complained of a lack of transparency and consultation surrounding the project.

The watchdog added that anyone who suspected they had suffered discrimination because of his or her race in such a recruitment exercise could complain to the commission, even if the post did not involve open recruitment.

The authority has yet to state if the amendment was due to the warning by the equality watchdog or if it had consulted the watchdog beforehand.

The other two selection requirements are an understanding of the vision and development of the West Kowloon Cultural District, and substantial expertise in designing similar museums.