Top officials are under attack for going HK$28.4 million over budget on the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2009 East Asian Games - and blaming it on the 2008 Beijing Olympics extravaganza.
Lawmakers said the government should have given a more accurate picture when it applied for funding from the Legislative Council in 2006.
Officials are also at odds with the Audit Commission over whether a HK$10 million donation to the East Asian Games which ended up unspent should have been gone on the opening ceremony.
Ministers said that because Beijing put on a dazzling Olympics show, the bill for the Hong Kong games ceremonies - which started with a HK$35 million budget - rose to HK$63.4 million. 'After watching the splendid opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, we started a discussion in 2009 whether Hong Kong should make it better for our own opening,' said Betty Fung Ching Suk-yee, director of Leisure and Cultural Services, at a hearing of Legco's public accounts committee yesterday.
Of the HK$63.4 million, HK$57.9 million was spent on the opening ceremony on December 5, 2009.
Civic Act-up lawmaker Cyd Ho Sau-lan attacked what she called the government's random planning.
'The Beijing Olympics opening was not the only lavish ceremony at an international sports event. So why, only after seeing that, would we suddenly decide to upgrade ours?' said Ho. 'The government should give a clearer explanation.'
Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing said it was his decision, after securing a total of HK$131 million in donations and sponsorship.
'It was not merely an opening ceremony. It promotes the style and features of Hong Kong,' said Tsang.
'After the donations and sponsorship were better than expected, we decided to enhance the ceremonies.'
But Civic Party lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah said: 'The logic is flawed. If the government decided the ceremonies were of such profound meaning, it should have included that factor when it came to Legco for money back in 2006.'
He added: 'It was just luck that spared the Games from ending in blunders, given the unexpectedly good sponsorship.'
The estimated cost of the Games was put at HK$240 million when the government applied for HK$123 million public funds from the Legco finance committee in 2006.
But an Audit Commission report published last month said HK$291 million was actually spent. Tsang said only HK$111.1 million of the public money was spent and what was left went back to public coffers.
A HK$10 million unspent donation was used to finance the legacy project, comprising support to an athletes' fund and the erecting of commemorative plaques.
The Audit Commission 'expressed reservations' on the use since it found the funding was intended for the opening ceremony.
But the government said the money had no specified use and therefore was appropriate to be allocated for the legacy project
The Committee asked officials to provide evidence to back their view.
The cost, in HK dollars, of the opening and closing East Asian Games ceremonies, with fireworks, rose to: $63m