A HK$6 billion plan to build a new government office complex in Yau Ma Tei has sparked fresh concerns over unchecked spending on public projects.
Legislators warned officials yesterday that the plan could be voted down in the end if lax monitoring of the use of public money was found, although the project was given an initial green light by the Legislative Council financial affairs panel.
At least one panel member compared it with the HK$6.1 billion plan for RTHK's new headquarters, which was voted down last month.
The government is planning to build the West Kowloon Government Offices on a one- hectare site next to the HKMA David Li Kwok Po College. It will comprise two blocks of 16 storeys and 18 storeys, according to the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau.
Construction is scheduled to start next year. On completion by 2019, some department offices housed in government office towers in Wan Chai and Yau Ma Tei would be moved in phases to the new complex. Some government units now renting private offices in Wan Chai, Tsim Sha Tsui, Mong Kok and Kwun Tong would also be moved there, resulting in an annual saving of HK$150 million in rent, according to the bureau.
The government says the relocation will also help release more core business sites for commercial use. There are also plans to build new government office towers in Kai Tak and Tseung Kwan O.
Deputy Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Yeung Tak-keung told the panel yesterday that the West Kowloon Government Offices project could cost about HK$6 billion.
He said that was a rough estimate only, and a more accurate estimate could be made when the detailed design of the project was available by early next year, adding that legislators had to appreciate that rising costs and inflation could push up prices.
James Tien Pei-chun of the Liberal Party expressed surprise.
"It is almost as expensive as the RTHK new headquarters project. I presume the government offices tower is an ordinary office building. There is no need to build big studios for TV productions. But both projects are as costly."
Starry Lee Wai-king of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong said: "We appreciate there is a labour shortage and inflation problems. But in a private firm, the boss would not accept it if every project was over budget by 30 per cent or 40 per cent.
"I hope the government can work hard in order to contain costs. Otherwise, legislators will have no choice but to vote down the projects."
Vetoing the HK$6.1 billion RTHK proposal last month, the Legco public works subcommittee said it was too costly - almost four times the original estimate of HK$1.6 billion made in 2009.
Last month also saw a government request for an extra HK$8.5 billion for a new Liantang-Heung Yuen Wai border crossing fail to get past the development panel.