White House or white elephant?

The proposed government headquarters at Tamar has come under fire by legislators, after the project's tender document revealed that there would be dozens of function halls, dining rooms and conference rooms for receptions, banquets and meetings.

The meeting facilities will be able to hold at least 2,500 people, and the government said 3,270 staff would be employed at the headquarters.

An Administration Wing spokeswoman stressed the facilities were 'designed for operational needs'. The function halls and conference rooms were needed to receive overseas delegations and as venues for meetings of government consultative bodies, she said.

According to the government prequalification document for tenderers, the headquarters will have a low block to house the chief executive and the Executive Council, and a high block to house other bureaus and departments.

The Chief Executive's Office block should be 'located in a prominent position on the project site to reflect its important role in the governance of the HKSAR', the document says.

The Chief Executive's Office, which will be expanded from 1,160 to 1,580 square metres, will have a drawing room for 24 VIPs, a conference room and two small meeting rooms. The Executive Council and its secretariat will have a chamber, an ante-chamber, attendees' waiting room, a briefing room and members' reading room.

In the same block there will be a function hall that will be able to hold up to 150 guests for a banquet or 800 people for a cocktail reception. The high block will house a conference hall with a capacity to hold up to 1,000 people standing or 480 people seated, two press rooms and eight conference rooms. These facilities, covering 8,510 square metres, are more than twice the size of those in the current headquarters.

The meeting facilities in the new headquarters exclude those to be put in place for different departments housed in the complex.

The government has also proposed building an underground passage guarded by 24-hour checkpoints and electronic access controls between the proposed new Legislative Council complex and its planned headquarters at Tamar.

There will also be exclusive entrances and car parks for the chief executive, ministers, executive councillors and other prominent visitors to the new headquarters.

Lawmakers from the pro-democracy camp and a human rights group have criticised the tunnel as a way to allow the chief executive and his cabinet members to avoid protesters and the media. But a government spokesman stressed the passageway was aimed only at connecting the buildings.

At present, the chief executive and his cabinet members have to pass a protest zone before entering the Central Government Offices and Legco.

Under the design detailed in the prequalification document for tenders, the new headquarters, including the Chief Executive's Office block and the main government office building, will be placed under tight security control. Access by staff, visitors, as well as delivery and maintenance contractors to the buildings, will be separated and regulated.

The Chief Executive's Office building will not be connected to any other block except at ground level.

The main government office tower will have no direct connection with public transport or other private buildings without access control. In case of emergency, a system will be able to isolate the entire government headquarters.

The document does not specify or reserve any zone for demonstrations.

Democratic Party chairman Lee Wing-tat said the tight security would bar the public from the government headquarters.

'This underground tunnel means people can't hand their petition letters to the chief executive and ministers when they attend the Legco or Exco meetings. This is very bad,' he said. But a spokeswoman for the Administration Wing stressed the underground passageway was needed to link up the government buildings there and

that the other security arrangements were put in place for the smooth and safe operation of the government.

This is an edited version of two articles by Quinton Chan which appeared in the South China

Morning Post on May 15, 2006

Design Criteria

The government says the design should:

- not be opulent or ostentatious

- express the city's cultural heritage

- articulate the dignity and stability of Hong Kong

- represent the city's international standing and image

- not alienate the publice

- reflect the government's commitment to community participation and public accountability

- not be flippant nor project a commercial image

- mirror the community norms and vitality

- be harmonious with the skyline of Hong Kong


Do we need a White House for Hong Kong?


Do you think the government needs so many meeting rooms in the Tamar complex?

What public facilities should be added to the complex to maintain close links with the public?

What should the government do with the current Central Government Office?


'This is Hong Kong's White House. Why do we need so many meeting rooms for a council which meets only once a week? Why do they [Exco members] need an ante-chamber? They only meet for a few hours every Tuesday morning.'

Democratic Party chairman Lee Wing-tat

'There are too many meeting rooms there. That explains why the new headquarters is so expensive. Why do we need two big function halls and dining rooms? So what will be the use of Government House, which is now used for banquets?'

Civic Party lawmaker Alan Leong Kah-kit

'Are they really so afraid of the sun? This underground link will enable officials to hide. If the government does not facilitate protests, people will only turn to more radical acts.'

Law Yuk-kai, director of Hong Kong's Human Rights Monitor