IT IS AMAZING, is it not, what $153 million can bring you if you have only to cover $53 million of the cost and government will cough up the rest. Harbour Fest is history now but before the history books on it are written let us get some things straight. Yes, it was a grand show. Yes, the people who went to Harbour Fest events enjoyed themselves. We certainly put enough money into helping them do so. And now, what was the point of doing it? Easily stated, say the organisers. It was done to show the world that Hong Kong had recovered from the Sars epidemic and to bring visitors and business back. This was indeed a worthwhile objective but let us put the emphasis on the past tense. Harbour Fest was unfortunately a minimum of three months too late for this purpose. Hong Kong snapped back from Sars before any official funding could even contribute to the process. In August visitor arrivals were already just a notch below the record high. The best thing we can now do to present ourselves in the best possible light to people abroad is to help them forget that we ever had Sars. They are well on the way to forgetting it already. Why bother reminding them? Very well, let us say that the point of Harbour Fest was to show the world what Hong Kong can do. Again, a worthwhile objective but what did we do other than prove that a big festival could be staged on a subsidy of two thirds of the costs? Kenya could do it. So could Peru. What sort of achievement is that? It certainly did not showcase what Hong Kong does. It did nothing to highlight the adaptability and dynamism of our entrepreneurial talent, which is where we really shine. In fact, it did little even to showcase Hong Kong talent in cultural achievement and this, you might have thought, would be the point of holding a music festival in Hong Kong to show what Hong Kong can do. Let us be plain about it. This was largely an expatriate show of expatriate performances, conceived by expatriates, staged by expatriates, watched by expatriates and now hailed by expatriates. There were token appearances by local performers but the emphasis was on Carreras, Santana, Neil Young and the Rolling Stones. I am surprised there was not a greater outcry at the insult to Chinese culture. And let us not forget the additional insult to local talent in choosing a foreign company to put together a video of the event at a cost of $7.4 million. I simply do not understand this. Why stage an event that scorns what Hong Kong does to ballyhoo what Hong Kong can do? Something just does not add up here. I could make sense of things and I could even understand providing a subsidy if Harbour Fest had been organised as a one-off celebration for Hong Kong people at having overcome Sars, and had nothing to do with the rest of the world. But that would only be the more reason for making it a local show of local performers with a video put together by local producers. This was emphatically what we did not get. The emphasis was on the foreign angle right throughout. Hong Kong was a venue and, let us be frank, this was in reality the sum total of the Hong Kong angle. I think, however, that I do understand the nuts and bolts of the concert promotion business. The game is to pick a show that people want to watch in sufficient numbers at ticket prices that will cover the full costs of putting on the show plus a reasonable return for the promoter who went to the risk of organising it. It is, in short, a straightforward commercial proposition, the sort of proposition that members of any chamber of commerce, including the American one, should be able to understand. If the organisers of Harbour Fest want to do it again and do it on this basis, then more power to them. It will not matter in that case if the acts they bring have little to do with Hong Kong. If Hong Kong people are willing to pay enough to make staging those acts a commercial proposition then that is connection enough. Bring them on. But to promote Hong Kong through an event that promotes little if anything to do with Hong Kong, to remind the world of Sars when we would do better to let the world forget, and to claim a big achievement from spending $153 million for an income of $53 million does not strike me as a huge achievement. Leave the concert business to people who understand concerts, fellas, and, the next time you want to promote Hong Kong, try making it Hong Kong you promote.