The audit watchdog has lashed out at the Mega Events Fund for overstating the turnout at its events and a host of other "irregularities", including event organisers' failure to show invoices for expenses.
Since 2009, the fund has received HK$250 million to provide financial support for local non-profit-making organisations to host arts, cultural and sports events.
In a report published yesterday, the Audit Commission criticised the fund's secretariat, formed from staff of the Tourism Commission, for exaggerating attendance figures at its events and the number of jobs it had created.
The secretariat had claimed that up to March 2012, some 900,000 people had taken part in its events and that 10,000 jobs had been created.
The watchdog said many of the turnout figures were for events held in open areas, where passersby could just come and go. "Most of the jobs created were extremely short term and temporary in nature, with many lasting for one to a few days only, and would have little or no impact on the labour market," the report says.
For one event, understood to be the Dragon and Lion Dance Extravaganza held on January 1 this year, the organiser was granted HK$1.5 million. The fund claimed that at least 3,100 paid jobs would be created.
The organiser later reported that only 1,850 jobs had been created. And the watchdog found that at least 410 of the jobs were for primary school and kindergarten students, whose tasks could not be considered a job.
The report also pointed to what it called "irregularities" in three one-day events held from 2011 to 2013. No invoices or staff payroll records were furnished to prove total expenses of HK$3.9 million.
The watchdog also hit out at the Tourism Commission for not having set conditions in funding agreements to govern the distribution of tickets.
For one event, understood to be the Hong Kong Open golf tournament in 2012, which received HK$15 million, 93 per cent of tickets were given away free to parties including the venue provider and sponsors.
That meant that only 7 per cent were available for golf lovers.
The watchdog said there was an "urgent need" for the Tourism Commission to step up checks and its control over the operation of events.
The Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, under which the Tourism Commission falls, said it "generally agreed" with the observations and recommendations in the report.
Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung, chairman of the Mega Events Fund's assessment committee, said all applications went through a "stringent system" before they were either approved or rejected.
The fund has approved some 24 events since it was established.