The city's graft-busters have been asked to investigate an annual parade sponsored by the government's HK$250 million Mega Events Fund after the latest audit report revealed potential conflicts of interest and irregularities in its accounts and records.
The accusations against the Dragon and Lion Dance Extravaganza were filed with the Independent Commission Against Corruption by the Democratic Party yesterday.
The organising committee includes at least five members of the pro-government Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB). It has received a total of HK$5.3 million from the fund since 2011 for its annual one-day event showcasing dragon and lion dancing. It includes HK$1.5 million for this year's parade on January 1 in Tsim Sha Tsui.
However, DAB lawmaker Chan Kam-lam, who heads the 11-strong committee, said yesterday that the events actually relied mainly on sponsorship.
He dismissed suggestions of corrupt practices.
"We have kept our own records, which were managed by an independent body and subject to internal audit," said Chan.
The audit report said some invoices and payroll records were missing, and two dance teams were run by two members of the organising committee, Ha Tak-kin and Tam Ting-pong.
Chan admitted that he lined up Ha and Tam to join the organising committee in 2011.
Tam said accusations of misconduct were unfair. "You can't just grab someone off the street to perform the dances," he said. "The whole [martial arts and dance] community really came together and pitched in on this. This is honestly quite upsetting."
He claimed each event could easily have cost more than HK$20 million to hold, but they had received only about HK$5 million from the government.
"A lion dance team would cost HK$3,000 to HK$5,000, but the teams were only paid HK$1,100," he said, adding that the performers had willingly accepted a quarter of their usual fee.
"I'm just a simple kung fu man, and we were just hoping to spread the word about the lion and dragon dance as a part of Chinese culture," said Tam.
However, Lam Cheuk-ting, chief executive of the Democrats and former ICAC investigator, said there was an "apparent transfer of monetary benefits".
The Mega Events Fund - set up in 2009 to help non-profit-making organisations put on arts, cultural and sports events - and the CreateSmart Initiative - were both criticised by the Audit Commission for inadequate monitoring of the use of government money. Both fall under the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau.
Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung, chairman of the Mega Events Fund's assessment committee, agreed a review was needed. He noted the Tourism Commission was responsible for overseeing the execution of approved projects.
The Tourism Commission said most of the recommendations for the Mega Events Fund in the audit report "have been or will be implemented as appropriate".
The ICAC said it would not comment on individual cases.