For a man who quit such a high-profile public appointment after just one week, West Kowloon arts hub executive director Angus Cheng Siu-chuen left with dignity, citing personal reasons, and wishing the project every success. But it has emerged that confusion over his role and powers were behind his departure. Since he was the first top-tier hiring, the West Kowloon authority has got off to a bad start. It must learn lessons from the affair. That is important if the iconic HK$21.6 billion cultural development is to proceed smoothly. The authority told Mr Cheng, a former top Disneyland designer and experienced management executive, he would be in charge pending the appointment of a chief executive officer. But under a structure adopted by the authority after he was appointed, he discovered that he was to be one of six people with the same title, responsible for different departments, rather than second in command. This misunderstanding should have been avoided. However, it is apparently not the only reason why someone with a corporate background might have left suddenly. Anonymous sources on the authority's board and in the Home Affairs Department have suggested Mr Cheng had trouble coping with the bureaucratic culture of the project, and should have followed the rules set for a public body. This may or may not be fair to him. Precisely what went on is not clear. But these comments are a timely reminder of a view expressed in Hong Kong recently by top overseas arts executives that civil servants and bureaucrats should not run the arts hub. This is not to take sides, or suggest that every aspect of huge public spending on a cultural project should not be scrutinised and accounted for rigorously. But appropriate controls must leave ample room for the input of artistic experience, management expertise and entrepreneurship. This calls for a delicate balancing act by the yet-to-be-appointed chief executive, especially given the troubled history of the West Kowloon project, including bitter controversy over previous public-private partnership development models. It is understandable that officials require the authority to follow both government rules and good corporate governance practices. But creativity must be allowed to flourish. The choice of the chief executive, who will report to a board chaired by Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen, is crucial to striking such a balance. Apart from outstanding credentials, he or she must have the independence and political skills to help ensure that bureaucracy facilitates innovation, rather than stifling it. Indeed, the need to keep civil servants in the background was a main theme of a public forum on the arts hub last month which included a panel of leaders of world-famous performance venues and art museums. Sir Nicholas Serota, director of Britain's Tate galleries, said it was vital to distinguish between government funding and control. Thankfully, some lessons seem to have been learned from the debacle of Mr Cheng's brief tenure. His appointment before that of a chief executive had already attracted criticism. The authority now says at least half the executive directors, including those responsible for arts and culture, will be chosen by the CEO. Local businessman and cultural critic Sir David Tang Wing-cheung, who organised the arts hub forum, rightly says it is crucial for Mr Tang and others involved to have the courage and confidence to appoint the right people to key positions and not interfere with them. Let us hope he is heeded.