The government could not say exactly how much it had spent hosting the 2009 East Asian Games, the home affairs minister told lawmakers yesterday.
Speaking at an inquiry into the finances of the city's first major international multisport event, Tsang Tak-sing said the government's estimates had been fair and accurate, despite heavy criticism from the government auditor.
'Can we give a sum calculated by full costing? After consideration, we found that we should only use the direct cost,' the secretary for home affairs said.
'We have consulted with the Financial Services and Treasury Bureau and have made it very clear that there were no so-called hidden costs as suggested by lawmakers.'
The hearing by the Legislative Council's public accounts committee was held on the heels of findings in the latest Audit Commission report, which criticised the government for underestimating expenditure by more than 20 per cent. While the government estimated gross expenditure for the Games at HK$240 million in the funding paper it submitted to Legco's finance committee in 2006, the commission said HK$291 million had actually been spent.
The administration obtained the finance committee's approval to allocate HK$123 million from public funds and left the remainder to be funded by sponsorship.
Hours after the release of the report on April 13, the bureau issued a statement saying that of the HK$123 million in approved subsidies, only HK$111.1 million was used. Tsang yesterday reiterated that the part paid from the public purse had not gone over budget.
At yesterday's hearing, legislators accused the Home Affairs Bureau of hiding some of the costs by excluding certain items from the total. For example, HK$22.7 million spent by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department to hire 160 contract staff for arranging activities relating to the Games was excluded. They asked Tsang to disclose the estimated full cost of the Games.
The minister said various departments had incurred expenses for the Games and it was difficult to determine how much each spent on the event. 'If we drew a clear line of how much each department should spend on the Games, departments could easily shove off jobs by saying they didn't have enough money for it,' he said.
Some lawmakers were dissatisfied. 'Hong Kong people should know how much public money was spent on the Games,' independent Paul Chan Mo-po said.
Cooking the books?
Ministers are under fire for not knowing the bill for the East Asian Games
The Audit Commission criticised the government for underestimating expenditure on the Games by: 20%
Of the HK$123 million in public money the government was allowed to allocate, only this much, in HK dollars, was spent: $111m