A controversial plan to build a new RTHK headquarters has been scrapped and a multibillion-dollar government funding request withdrawn in the face of opposition from Beijing loyalists in Legco.
The project to build a new HQ for the city's public broadcaster will now be sent out for re-tender, causing at least a two-year delay in construction on the site in Tseung Kwan O, officials said.
Yesterday's decision widened the rift between RTHK's management and the government, with the broadcaster's deputy director Tai Keen-man expressing "deep regret" at the decision.
The original cost estimate for the project - made in 2009 - was HK$1.9 billion, which then ballooned to a HK$6 billion funding request that was rejected earlier this month. Officials from the commerce and economic development bureau returned with a slimmed down, HK$5.3 billion price tag but opted to withdraw the request when it became clear it was unacceptable to Beijing loyalists in Legco.
A bureau spokesman said delays caused by the retendering process could well drive up the cost of the project and expressed "disappointment and regret" at members of Legco who opposed the funding request and the scale of the new HQ project.
Pan-democrat information technology sector lawmaker Charles Mok expressed surprise that the government backed down so quickly and said: "The pro-Beijing camp has been making use of this opportunity to lessen the role of RTHK."
The chairman of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, Tam Yiu-chung, welcomed the suspension of the expansion plan for the publicly funded station, which is often accused of being too critical of the government.
Tam insisted he was not opposed to RTHK's expansion, but said the scale needed to be justified and he claimed pan-democrats were only backing the move because they felt politically obliged to do so. But lawmaker Sin Chung-kai, of the Democratic Party, criticised the government for not lobbying harder.
Last night commerce and economic development minister Greg So Kam-leung denied political motives were behind the move, saying RTHK's charter would remain untouched.