It is 2.15 pm on an ordinary weekday and a stoney silence prevails in the pristine complex of the Hong Kong Museum of Art. Apart from the security guards (who are evidently bored) and cleaners, the entire building appears deserted. There are just a couple of visitors - (two, literally) - looking at the paintings in the Special Exhibition Gallery, where Profound Images - A Retrospective of Chu Teh-chun is currently on show. But looking is about all they are doing, because there are no illuminating written notes to go with the abstract oils, except the year they were painted and that they are, well, 'oil on canvas'. There are no visitors in the Chinese Antiquities Gallery or the Xubaizhi Gallery of Chinese Painting and Calligraphy. The dim lighting and eerie silence gives these halls the air of a morgue or an ancient tomb. Then, on the fourth and top floor, three back-packers are spotted: not visiting the Chinese Fine Art Gallery but instead taking a nap on the sofas on the landing, which commands a spectacular view of the Hong Kong island skyline. Welcome to the SAR's only fully public-funded art museum; a museum where many interesting artworks are kept but which few know about; a museum that charges $10 for admission but which few bother to visit; and a museum that should be full of life but instead has been slammed by critics as being boring and unimaginative. As one local visitor said: 'Several exhibition halls have seldom changed their contents since the museum opened several years ago. 'Sometimes the museum shows mo lei tau [nonsensical] and low-standard works and that is why there is little incentive for me to go there more often.' And even when there are interesting shows - and the museum has hosted some good exhibitions by masters such as Miro and Chagall - all the impetus seems to come from outside organisers, most noticeably the French Consulate. But all this is about to change - or so it appears. Earlier this month, the Provisional Urban Council's Museums Select Committee released a 'five-year plan' consultation paper that invites the public to express its views on Hong Kong's four major museums. (Others include the Hong Kong Museum of History, the Hong Kong Science Museum and the Hong Kong Space Museum, which extraordinarily share just one publicity executive between all of them). In addition, two forums have also been arranged - on September 21 at the Museum of Art and on September 28 at the Science Museum - for open public discussions. Committee chairman Mok Ying-fan said the views collected would help the council formulate a set of comprehensive policies on its museum services. For the Museum of Art, the five-year plan proposes a new 'strategy' for its acquisition policy, exhibition policy, education and outreach activities, popularisation and promotion activities, international exchange activities, promotion of local visual arts and a proposed museum of contemporary art. So, does this exercise also mean improving the Museum of Art, and its policy, structure and image that have been criticised by many in the past? Not necessarily, said the committee, because it believes it is already doing a fine job. 'Under any circumstances there will be shortcomings and strengths [in our services],' said Mr Mok. 'We want to make improvements and the five-year plan is something that we can use as a measuring stick to gauge future performances. It is formulated not so much because [our services] have been inadequate.' According to the committee, 'the council has been contributing significantly to the development of museum services in Hong Kong for years by providing and managing different museums in the urban area as well as presenting museum-related programmes and activities.' Stern critics of the Museum of Art, however, are far from being convinced by this official view. Neither are they convinced that the five-year plan will improve anything at all. In fact, one Museum of Art advisory panel member (for art promotion) told the Post this week: 'What five-year plan? [The Museums Select Committee] has not informed me about the consultation paper. I'm learning about it from you now.' Those who do know about the plan say it lacks vision and is a typical work by bureaucrats and technocrats. Oscar Ho Hing-kay, the exhibition director at the Hong Kong Arts Centre, said the plan was a classic bureaucratic presentation: 'The committee is saying 'everything is fine and let's keep the programmes going'. But the plan lacks vision - it has not attempted to understand Hong Kong culture and its development, and it lacks direction. 'What makes Hong Kong unique? What is the government's role [in art development] and what is Hong Kong's relationship with the mainland now? Should it be influenced by and interact with China? 'These questions are not raised in the five-year plan at all.' A source close to the museum said the plan was 'superficial' in that it failed to recognise its shortcomings. 'There is a fundamental flaw which, as I see it, is not being addressed by the museum because the chief curator is in charge of the museum here - all of it, ' the source said. 'He is not a marketing man, but you need a marketing man. And you need somebody to literally administer the museum. You need people to think about and write and deal with the art side. 'Then you need a separate bunch of people who are all professionals in their own way to deal with, and look at, the user side.' Criticisms are also specifically directed at the plan's proposed acquisition policy. Mr Ho said: 'The acquisition policy is very superficial. Basically, the plan says we should buy everything, because what they have set out [to acquire] are works by artists active in the 1970s, budding artists and established artists. That includes everything. 'As for its Chinese antiquities collection, the question I want to ask is why acquire the Ming dynasty and why Chinese jade? 'Because the Urban Council was full of doctors and lawyers in the past it established a tradition of collecting these antiques. But what is the significance and relevance to the public today? 'If you are using taxpayers' money, you need to re-think these questions.' Another criticism is that the plan seems to localise itself. 'It localises the perspective and focus of the museum in South China in a way I am not sure is entirely right, given that that it is supposed to be 'one country two systems',' said the museum source. 'And Hong Kong's individuality, to a large extent, depends on its international outlook. What the museum is about, initially and basically, is what is in it. 'And if what is in it is focused on South China, that's fine. But it is not quite the focus that perhaps ought to be there.' There are other criticisms: that the plan does not take art seriously at all; that there is too much politics among the councillors themselves (the recent controversy over the Central Library is a prime example); that curators use 'lazy thinking' rather than 'risk-taking'; and the museum's lack of accountability. 'Basically, technocratic and bureaucratic culture is a direct contradiction of art development, because the latter is about risk-taking, free and liberal thinking and imagination,' Mr Ho said. However, there is one area that urgently needs looking at but which has not been mentioned in the five-year plan - the role of the advisory panels. When it comes to acquiring works or deciding what to exhibit, who should be making these decisions? Who should decide for the public what they should have and see? 'The Museum of Art has its professional curators and advisory panels, and we also consult with overseas consulates,' said the Museum's chief curator, Gerard Tsang. 'What we think is good for the public will be proposed to the museum committee.' But one advisory panel member, who has asked for anonymity, said these panels consisted of small cliques and if members did not belong to the clique they were almost never consulted - 'except when there are controversial issues such as the proposed Museum of Contemporary Art. 'If there was any strong public opinion against it, then we would become scapegoats for [the Provisional Urban Council] supporting the proposal,' said the member, who has attended only three meetings in under two years. 'What are we going to make of the five-year plan and its future direction when we don't even know the structure of the organisation?' However, Mr Ho said there was a positive side to the five-year plan, which was that 'at least after working in mysterious ways for decades, they have at last come up with the idea of a five-year plan. 'At least they now have to explain what they are doing and be more accountable. It is symbolic and a good gesture. But sincerity alone will not be able to cure its many ills.'