Known for its remarkable success in show business in the region, Hong Kong had been seen as an unlikely loser in hosting major entertainment performances - until the embarrassing Harbour Fest mess. Anonymous government sources quoted Chief Secretary Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, in his capacity as acting chief executive, as saying at a crisis meeting last week, 'we can't get it wrong next time'. Privately, an official said one could only hope the remaining performances would be trouble-free. It would be unrealistic to expect the music festival to become a smashing success, she said. The downbeat mood among officials made an ironic contrast with the upbeat sentiment within the government as it geared up to pick up the pieces as soon as the Sars outbreak was over. By bringing in a long list of world-renowned singers and local artists to perform in the heart of the city, organisers were hoping to counter the negative image arising from Sars. Notwithstanding the positive response to the performances of artists including Jose Carreras, Charlotte Church and Prince, the event has been marred by a string of controversies surrounding the participation of artists, ticketing and publicity. Speaking on Thursday, Financial Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen lamented that fresh controversies had erupted on a daily basis, but maintained it was not the right time to hunt for culprits. The last thing Hong Kong wanted, he said, was that people sat back and did nothing in order to avoid making mistakes. With the economy devastated by Sars, the government was under enormous pressure to act swiftly. Its request for emergency funding gained overwhelming support from the Legislative Council. In spite of severe budgetary deficits, Hong Kong can still afford a billion-dollar campaign to fund a star-studded show to rebuild the image of a vibrant economy. There are perhaps good reasons to count on the can-do spirit and professionalism in the private sector in making the impossible possible. But hindsight now casts doubts on the feasibility of organising a dozen performances within three weeks under a tight working schedule. Critics also blame the government for giving a free hand to the American Chamber of Commerce in hosting the event without adequate monitoring. Dubbed 'Harbour Fuss', the show has been conveniently cited as a textbook case of a public relations disaster. Initiated by the foreign business chamber and financially supported by the government, Harbour Fest could have been a good opportunity to demonstrate a government-community partnership to overcome the economic crisis exacerbated by Sars. With a venue in the dress circle of Victoria Harbour, the event could have been a carnival for people from all walks of life to enjoy music and meet each other, and for people around the world to feel the boom and buzz of the city. If there is a lesson to be learned from the debacle, it is that good intentions, huge financial subsidies and top-level government involvement are no short cut to successful events. Rather, a clearer division of work, closer co-ordination among various bodies and more pro-active engagement with the show-business sector in organising the performances were proved to be critically important. Despite the long list of deficiencies in the public-health sector found in a post-mortem examination of the Sars crisis, there has never been a shortage of praise for the spirit and professionalism of the medical and health-care sector and the resilience and initiative of the people in fighting back against Sars. It is a sad irony that the same spirit of professionalism and teamwork are lacking in the drive to tell the world the Sars crisis is over.