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PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 April, 2014, 10:10pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 April, 2014, 11:26am

The Mega Events Fund must be disbanded and its chairman made to explain 'irregularities'

The MEF is unaccountable, its methods flawed; not only must its chairman explain 'irregularities' but it should be disbanded

BIO

Alvin Sallay was a Sunday columnist with the paper for more than 10 years and reported on the Hong Kong sports scene for the last 25 years. Through his columns he covered four Olympic Games and one soccer World Cup. A long-time Asia expert, he has also been to seven consecutive Asian Games.
 

Let's cut to the chase - I'm no great fan of Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung, chairman of the Mega Events Fund.

Not because he chooses to act as if I'm not there by refusing to reply to e-mails or grant interviews; it's simply that he heads a body which is now superfluous to the needs of Hong Kong.

My ego notwithstanding, it is disheartening when someone blithely ignores attempts to find out why a number of sports have had applications to host major events turned down by the MEF.

Carrying on as if nothing has happened - and this is a common trait in Hong Kong - will do no good
Alvin Sallay

Dear Jeffrey deemed it below him to answer queries from a mere member of the media and instead left it to those in the lower pay grades to throw a niggardly bone my way in the form of a standard response couched in bureaucratic non-speak - or should that be non-sense?

So it was with great satisfaction that I read the message the Audit Commission had for Dear Jeffrey and his cohorts recently.

In simple, earthy language, the public watchdog berated the Tourism Commission-controlled fund for irregularities over attendance figures and jobs created at events, and missing invoices.

Let's hope, Dear Jeffrey, that at least this public censure has caught your wayward attention. And let's hope you are big enough to accept the blame and act in the only way possible by stepping down as chairman of the MEF.

I would go even further and call for the disbanding of the body. This is not the first time I have stated this.

A few months ago, in this column, I said the MEF should be disbanded and the funds remaining in its coffers handed over to the government's other fund which supports sports - the M-Mark scheme run by the Sports Commission.

Exaggerating figures can be compared to cooking the books to improve financial figures or making up numbers to create the impression that a healthy state of affairs exists.

And this is not a case of claiming an inch in an act of preening. Adding the numbers of spectators at events held in open areas, where passers-by could come and go freely, or including primary school and kindergarten children in job numbers looks a lot like wilful deception.

The auditors not only slammed the MEF for "overstating" turnout at events but also chided it for other "irregularities", such as not keeping invoices and records which could prove total expenses of HK$3.9 million for three one-day events held from 2011 to 2013. Where did this money go?

These are serious issues and it is up to the MEF to come out and answer all these questions. They are obliged to do so for this is public taxpayers' money - HK$250 million of it that has been poured into the MEF since it was set up in 2009.

From the outset, the scheme was flawed, with applicants having to go through a byzantine process to get funds.

If you were lucky to be approved, you only got half of the money you asked for, with the remaining 50 per cent given once the event was deemed a success and had been audited.

This placed sports associations fortunate to have got the nod in a difficult position.

You approached the MEF because you didn't have funds, but having budgeted an event for say, HK$5 million, you were then supposed to scrounge around looking for HK$2.5 million of that as the MEF didn't hand all the cash over up front. This put associations in grave danger.

If the event was not successful, say because of the weather, and people stayed away, you would end up with a deficit of HK$2.5 million on your hands as the MEF would not pay the balance if it deemed the event a failure.

No association could afford to take that risk. This has translated into Hong Kong becoming a sporting desert. If you discount the rugby sevens, there are very few major international events annually in town.

The golf Hong Kong Open has shrunk in prize money and attraction (the MEF has shunned it); likewise the Hong Kong Cricket Sixes, which was not even held last year. OK, we had Manchester United last summer, and the Hong Kong Squash Open delivers its stars, but really, is there any "Mega"' event in town?

Now that the audit watchdog has bared its teeth, it is time for a relook and revamp of the entire system. Carrying on as if nothing has happened - and this is a common trait in Hong Kong - will do no good.

And the first step would be for Dear Jeffrey to come out publicly and explain how these "irregularities" happened under his watch. If he cannot, he must then at least have the dignity to step down from his position.

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