In times of disaster and crisis, Hong Kong people do not hesitate to loosen their purse strings to donate. But at the same time, they expect their money will go to a deserving cause. Assurances that money would go to worthy projects were given when the Hong Kong government sought lawmakers' approval to donate HK$9 billion to help with Sichuan earthquake reconstruction four years ago. But recent reports regarding a school rebuilt with Hong Kong funds have raised serious concerns about whether the money was well spent.
The school for ethnic minorities in Mianyang was rebuilt with HK$4 million, half from Hong Kong taxpayers and half from a local education group. But having been used for less than two years, it was demolished for commercial development. This calls into question the government's monitoring system. It is not the first time money set aside for earthquake relief and reconstruction has been misused on the mainland. Different authorities have given conflicting statements about the demolition. One mainland official said the school was only rebuilt to meet urgent needs at that time. Another blamed the developer for being selfish and warned about possible punishment. The mixed messages do not help clear the air about why the school was flattened. Although authorities committed 70 million yuan (HK$85.76 million) to build a new school elsewhere, that does not diminish the impression the donation was wasted. To rebuild confidence in charity-giving, the government should consider retrieving its contribution.
Municipal governments on the mainland are not known for upholding high standards of transparency and accountability on public spending. That makes monitoring by the Hong Kong government even more important. Seven progress reports on the 184 reconstruction projects backed by the government and NGOs have been tabled to the legislature so far. But how vigorously they have been scrutinised is another matter. Hongkongers have a well-deserved reputation for charitable giving, but their generosity should not be abused by bureaucracy and blunders.