Carrie Lam evasive on Hong Kong leadership bid as museum row snowballs

Chief secretary pledges to ‘spare no effort to do something good for Hong Kong’, but she fails to satisfy critics of HK$3.5 billion arts hub project

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 31 December, 2016, 1:40pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 January, 2017, 11:53am

Hong Kong’s No 2 official remained ambivalent on Saturday about running for the city’s top job while coming under increasing attack over a controversial museum deal with Beijing – an unexpected political hot potato that is snowballing into a major challenge just before her widely expected leadership bid.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor avoided questions from the media on mounting political opposition to a plan to build Hong Kong’s own version of Beijing’s famed Palace Museum following an official Friday midnight press release that threw up more questions than satisfying critics.

Beijing not ready to show its hand on Hong Kong chief executive preference, top official hints

But in her speech at a charity event, Lam continued to drop hints on the possibility of running for chief executive in March and recalled a doctor once advising her to “act according to her strength”.

“But I feel that if it is something good for Hong Kong, something I can do to concentrate positive energy for Hong Kong, I will spare no effort,” she said.

“The year 2017 will be very important to me because no matter what decision I make later on, my role will change.”

She had nothing further to add to the statement by the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority Board, which she chairs, defending the decision-making process for the museum, which is to be built at the arts hub.

The HK$3.5 billion project, financed by the Jockey Club, will be set up on prime land originally earmarked for a mega performance venue, which was dropped after a business viability assessment. Critics have questioned why the government skipped the public consultation requirement laid down by law for any development of arts facilities there.

Decision to build Hong Kong Palace Museum at West Kowloon Cultural District only revealed to board last month, member claims

Lam had suggested earlier that the public had not been consulted to avoid an “embarrassing” situation if it was rejected.

The board’s statement said before it unanimously approved the project on November 28, Lam had consulted two senior members, vice-chairman Ronald Arculli and museum committee chairman Victor Lo Chung-wing, in the first half of 2016. Lam has also briefed the board twice.

A source told the Post that Arculli was recently asked to lead Lam’s election campaign.

Chief executive candidate Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said on Saturday that Lam could have done better, although the mainland side might have asked her to keep it confidential.

She could have revealed the scheme in a frank and no-nonsense manner
Regina Ip, chief executive contender

“She could have told them Hongkongers would be sensitive and consultation was necessary,” Ip said. “She could have revealed the scheme in a frank and no-nonsense manner.”

Responding to criticism that the choice of Rocco Yim Sen-kee as the architect of the museum was made without an open tender process, the board said Yim was recognised for his expertise in museum designs.

Bar Association chairwoman Winnie Tam Wan-chi SC, who was appointed to the board in late October, said she was still finding out the facts before concluding whether the museum deal had broken consultation rules.

The Civic Party’s Tanya Chan, vice-chair of the Legislative Council’s subcommittee on West Kowloon, said she would ask for records of all the internal briefings mentioned by the board before Friday, when Lam is scheduled to answer questions in Legco.