ONCE AGAIN, WE have a government official who needs to look up some words in the dictionary. She is Marilyn Hung, the acting assistant commissioner for Innovation and Technology (whew, what a mouthful), and the words she needs to look up are 'satisfied' and 'progress'. The progress with which Ms Hung is satisfied is the enormous support the commission has given the Chief Executive's big technology drive with the disbursement of less than 10 per cent of the HK$5 billion earmarked in November 1999 for nurturing innovative technology projects. You can understand why she might think this to be 'progress' when you look at some of the difficulties. So far, there has been HK$446.3 million spent on 199 projects. That works out to about HK$2.4 million per project. Isn't it wonderful how many technology ideas we have in Hong Kong? They are such BIG ones, too. And then bear in mind that these are the approved projects. The commission actually received 904 applications so far. Divide this into the HK$446.3 million in disbursements and you come to less than HK$500,000 per application received. This is actually the interesting figure because if you think of how much our civil service loves paperwork, how much time and money the applicants would have had to put into generating it and how much time and money the commission's staff would have had to put into processing it, you could easily find that those disbursements were less than the cost of administering them. Any takers for a bet here? I say there was not enough left over to keep a coffee stand in business. Ms Hung also says the fund has enough to last for five to seven years. At the present rate of disbursement, I make that closer to 20 years. It seems we will have this Innovation and Technology Commission with us yet for some time to come unless the pace of activity picks up. It is just as likely, however, that we will prove to have had a HK$5 billion Innovation in Administration Fund. Move aside, Sir Humphrey Appleby, we have done you one better. But, of course, you cannot expect the commission to be profligate with its money. As Ms Hung says: 'We approve projects purely depending on the viability of these projects, whether there is any technology value and so on.' Yes, 'and so on'. That is just the point, quite a bit of 'and so on' it has to be when you have civil servants deciding what is viable and has value in technology. How are they to know? The point about venture capital in technology (isn't it interesting how it is deemed to mean only computer technology these days?) is that nine out of 10 ideas do not work and financing them therefore only makes sense if the potential profits are high. That is why money is so tight for ideas in this field. They are mostly duff ideas. But you can be sure that private sector experts have already pecked through them for the best ones before applications are filed with public sector inexperts. Count on it that the success ratio will be a good deal less than one in 10 for Ms Hung's commission. Which is why it is interesting that she says only four of those 199 projects have so far been terminated because of unsatisfactory progress, a failure rate of 2 per cent, a wondrous venture capital achievement. Of course, she also admits that none of those 199 projects have yet proven successful or turned out commercially viable products. This, you see, is because it is much too early to judge them yet. Meanwhile, we have liquidators predicting that two SAR technology companies will fail per week for a fallout this year of HK$3.4 billion. Isn't it about time you started that judging and saved us some money, Ms Hung?