'You may be surprised to receive this letter from me since you do not know me personally. I am Mr Donald Tsang, Chief Secretary for Administration of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government and a colleague of Mr Michael Rowse, a wealthy benefactor of the overseas music industry. 'I got your contact through the internet based on our urgent need for a dependable and trustworthy foreign partner. We have deposited HK$100 million, in the care of a local American business organisation, and we wish to share it with you.' I don't know whether that is how the government approached prospective performers at the Hong Kong Harbour Fest. Hopefully, they were a little more subtle. But it seems our government is growing increasingly fond of junk mail. People have been arguing over spam for a decade, and even now, everyone seems to have a different definition for it. Is it fraudulent? Must it be commercial? Is it necessarily offensive? How many e-mails constitute a spam? But whatever the quibbles, there are two characteristics common to all spam: it is unrequested, and it invariably advertises products the recipients do not want. Donald Tsang's plea to the civil service qualified on both counts. The scale of his spam was far smaller than the government's 'Don't Panic' alert, spammed to every local mobile phone at the height of the Sars crisis, but spam it was, and judging by the continuing low turnout at the Harbour Fest concerts, it was no more successful. Sending an e-mail asking civil servants to attend the hugely unpopular Disaster Fest probably seemed like a good idea. After all, it would take less than 10 per cent of the territory's government workers to attend, and the Tamar venue would be sold out every night. But by resorting to junk mail, all Mr Tsang did was remind us what an unpopular waste of money this whole charade has been. Rather than marshalling his forces for a display of public-funded loyalty, he was demonstrating the same desperation that oozes from the bad-loan, porn and physical enhancement adverts that most of us face every day. People turn to spam because they know they could never sell their tat on the open market. If the world really longed for cheap aphrodisiacs, we'd be queuing up at Watsons for them. If we wanted to buy cable TV in Florida, perhaps we would all move there first. And if I ever so much as imagined wanting to see my neighbours naked, I would get my head examined. For many people the Harbour Fest is a line-up of bands that few people want to see, charging prices that few are willing to pay. American Chamber of Commerce boss James Thompson may have thought Eminem 'too foul-mouthed' for our delicate sensibilities. He proved that the concerts had little to do with what Hong Kong people wanted, and a lot more to do with what the organisers wanted. Perhaps if the government had just asked private enterprise to organise the whole event, we could have saved ourselves a hundred million and got a far better, cheaper line-up. The dozens of bands appearing at Victoria Park's Rockit festival this weekend were clearly not here for the money. At HK$120 for an entire day of music, it would be surprising if most of them were even able to recoup their costs. Most were counting on CD and T-shirt sales for the extra pocket money, but they seemed to be here because they wanted to be. These were people coming to Hong Kong because it's a great place to be. And Rockit showed that Hong Kong can organise and publicise an event without any need for junk-mailed pleas for the civil service to buy tickets. Even without a single well-known name and very little publicity or government interest, Rockit managed to build at least a ripple of online interest by using the Internet's word of mouth effect and all those independent bands' web sites. But just as they have always done with the technology industry, the government chooses to stick with huge investments in big brand names, completely ignoring the vitality and fresh ideas that can come from small start-ups. The contrast between the Harbour Fest and Rockit is a lesson that could be applied to nearly everything this government does. Sometimes, no amount of government backing can get an unpopular business off the ground, just as no amount of spam will ever convince me to trust anyone offering a fortune in overlooked African dollars. Microsoft estimates spam costs businesses US$10 billion a year. Mr Tsang's spam may have been a small contribution to the global spam problem, but think of the cost of every one of the 180,000 recipients spending just a couple of minutes on the message. That adds up to 6,000 hours, or 750 working days. Couldn't that time, like our Harbour Fest investment, have been better spent? Neil Taylor is SCMP's technology editor.