Lawmakers yesterday slammed the officials running the government's HK$250 million Mega Events Fund for hiding key information from the Legislative Council Finance Committee.
When applying for HK$150 million at a meeting of the committee in 2012, the fund's secretariat chose not to mention that the Independent Commission Against Corruption had suggested some two years earlier that the fund hand back all unused funds and cease operating, lawmakers revealed yesterday.
They pointed to an Audit Commission report released last month stating that the ICAC "raised its concerns regarding the need for continuing the MEF" in 2010, suggesting unused funds be returned to the government.
As an adviser to the fund, the ICAC felt the economy had improved since it had been set up in 2009 on a three-year tenure with a cash injection of HK$100 million to promote Hong Kong as the events capital of Asia.
Instead, the fund, which operates under the Tourism Commission, was extended to five years, prompting the 2012 request for a further HK$150 million.
Deputy commissioner for tourism Rosanna Law Shuk-pui told lawmakers at the Public Accounts Committee hearing yesterday that no reference to the ICAC's suggestion was made to the Finance Committee as Legco's economic development panel had been told of it in 2010.
The S outh China Morning Post yesterday found no reference to the matter in the commission's paper submitted to the development panel meeting on November 22 of that year.
Andrew Wong Ho-yuen, permanent secretary for the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, which oversees the Tourism Commission, told lawmakers yesterday: "Our interpretation is that [the ICAC] only advised us to return the surplus funds instead of asking us to cease operation of the Mega Events Fund."
Civic Party lawmaker Alan Leong Kah-kit countered: "The reason why the ICAC suggested [the fund] return the unused money to the government is because [it] wanted to shut the Mega Events Fund down - there is no other possible explanation."
The Audit Commission report had also criticised the fund for exaggerating the jobs it created.
Beijing-loyalist lawmaker Chan Kam-lam, who heads the organising committee of one of the fund beneficiaries, the Dragon and Lion Dance Extravaganza, said job creation had "never crossed their minds".
The Audit Commission singled out the dance extravaganza for criticism, accusing it of incomplete accounting.
The event had stated it would create 3,000 paid jobs for performers. Ultimately, there were 1,850 performers, including at least 400 children and 12 inmates.
Police are understood to have opened an investigation into the event after members of the Labour and Democratic parties filed a report yesterday on potential conflicts of interest.
Ko Chi-sum, of the 2010 Hong Kong Musical Festival, another beneficiary of the fund, meanwhile defended his event against claims taxpayers' money was used to promote shows outside the city. Ko said there had been no plan to stage overseas shows when it applied for funding.