Lone panel member speaks out over Hong Kong Palace Museum controversy at consultation meeting
Controversial project described as ‘the will of a boss’ compared to other attractions at arts hub
All but one of the West Kowloon Cultural District consultation panel members were silent over the controversy surrounding the Hong Kong Palace Museum project at a last minute meeting on Thursday, despite the lack of forewarning on the plans.
Ching Cheung-ying, a member of the consultation panel for the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, found himself the only member of 10 at the meeting to criticise the lack of transparency in the palace museum project.
“I see the panel has failed to serve as a bridge between the public and WKCDA because we learned about the museum only [when it was] reported in the news,” he said at the meeting, the first since last September.
Ching, a secondary school teacher and Sha Tin district councillor, described the project as “the will of a boss” compared to all other infrastructure in the arts hub, on which the panel had been consulted and views from the public sought.
“The issue here is really how the decision was formulated,” he said, adding the panel members would normally receive a “progress report” on previous projects, such as the M+ museum, and they were allowed to raise questions or give suggestions.
“The panel simply could not function if we were not briefed in advance,” he added said.
Panel chairman Dr John Leong Chi-yan, however, said he did not feel offended by being kept in the dark because the panel was generally informed about certain projects after the initial decisions were made.
“It has never been the case that the authority only makes decision after hearing our suggestions,” Leong said.
Thursday’s “special meeting” was arranged at very short notice, he said, and only 10 members out of 16 could make it.
The authority CEO Duncan Pescod told panel members that operational costs of the future museum, such as transportation and insurance, would be borne by the authority and he would take these costs into account when seeking further funding from the Legislative Council.
Arts critic Mathias Woo Yan-wai said the consultation mechanism was doomed to fail.
“We need an advisory body made up by critical intellectuals from professional groups led by an expert, not a medical doctor,” he said, referring to Dr Leong, the panel chair.
“How can a leadership like that steer the society to a discussion that is professional enough to match such grand subject as the Beijing Palace Museum?” he asked.
On the selection criteria for the design architect of the Palace Museum, which stated in a document issued on January 6 by the chief secretary office and the authority that the person should be “a local architect” but later became “a local Chinese architect” in a 16-page response on January 10, an equality watchdog warned that singling out candidates in this way could have violated racial discrimination laws.
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.
In a reply to the Post, the Authority said “the WKCDA has no reason to consult the EOC concerning this [Palace Museum] project.”