THE Hong Kong Government has been dubbed the 'Ministry of No Fun' for increasingly refusing to give licences for outdoor festivals and events, or strangling them in red tape, according to local groups and event organisers. Police objections and lengthy bureaucratic procedures have already forced cancellation of the Lockhart Road Carnival, the Moscow State Circus and next year's Wan Chai food and music festivals. This year's Rugby Sevens and the Wan Chai Food Festival only received their liquor licences at the last minute and as a result of intensive lobbying. Bureaucratic restrictions on Jean-Michel Jarre's opening show for the new Hong Kong Stadium and the Wan Chai Music Festival turned both events into 'damp squibs'. 'It seems the Government is making it more difficult for organisers of events where people can come and enjoy themselves. Bureaucracy is getting worse and spreading through different departments,' said Mark Thompson, head of promotions group Abbot Thompson, which organises events such as the Wan Chai food and music festivals. 'It's become significantly more difficult since the Lan Kwai Fong disaster,' he said, referring to the January 1, 1993, incident when 21 New Year revellers were trampled to death in the overcrowded food and entertainment centre for the trendy. 'I feel that what's happening is that bureaucrats are keeping their heads down and don't want to make waves so it's honestly much easier to object to something and put the onus on the promoter or organiser to prove the point than it is to say yes and go through the process of putting the event up,' he said. Mr Thompson's claims appear to be backed up by a sharp reduction in the number of licences granted over recent years. Government figures reveal that less than half of all temporary liquor licence applications have been approved so far this year, compared with a 97.5 per cent approval rate in 1991. And the rate of approval of Places of Public Entertainment Licences has also dropped, though not as sharply. In 1989 there was a 99.81 per cent approval rate. Five years later that has dropped to 88.85 per cent. 'When we held the Wan Chai Food Festival they said initially that granting us a liquor licence 'would not be in the public interest',' said Mr Thompson, who is also chief executive of the Wan Chai Association. 'When we asked them to clarify, they said: 'You don't need a liquor licence because it's a family event'. But that was ridiculous, it was a food and beverage festival. 'San Miguel, the principal sponsor, was threatening to pull out, which would have cancelled the event and caused the Wan Chai Association [a non-profit body] to lose a lot of money. 'So the Wan Chai Association sent the Commissioner of Police a solicitor's letter threatening to take him to the Supreme Court,' he said. 'In the end, 12 hours before the event, we got the licence.' Although the event eventually went ahead, San Miguel was unlikely to want to sponsor the festival again, Mr Thompson said. And the police said they would not sanction an event on the harbour front again, due to 'safety considerations'. 'The Hong Kong Tourist Association wrote to us asking what we were going to do next year but we had to tell them we can't put on an outdoor event, so we said we would do a few promotions. But that's nothing like the same sort of atmosphere,' Mr Thompson said. 'We've abandoned plans to hold the Lockhart Road Carnival this year. In the end we felt we would spend 80 per cent of our time countering the bureaucracy rather than putting the event on. 'It's not just a matter of satisfying the police. It's satisfying the Fire Services, the traffic department, the engineering department - it's just absolutely impossible to satisfy all these objections in time to put on an event,' he said. A revised, 'non-controversial' Wan Chai Carnival, sanctioned by the police, will take place at the Southorn Playground in December. But Mr Thompson believed that ultimately, event organisers would become so disheartened at having to spend 80 per cent of their time tackling bureaucracy instead of organising events, that it was easier not to go ahead with them. Wan Chai police Deputy Commander Yeung Ying-wai rejected criticism of his office's objections to events and claimed all decisions were made in the public interest. 'We must always put public safety first,' he said. But Mr Thompson's comments were echoed by Allen Japp, general manager of The Arena Group promoter. 'The conservative elements are winning, they're closing everything down,' Mr Japp said. 'The biggest problem is finding venues. The whole noise restriction thing is ridiculous. We live in a noisy city but you can't have gigs because they make some noise. And if you have a gathering of 10 people in a room you've got to have security. 'I think Hong Kong is a conservative place by nature.' Midas Events director Dale Rennie said noise restrictions had reduced the number of venues available for events. He believed that Hong Kong was missing out as a result. 'For example, we're putting together an offer for the Rolling Stones tour for five countries but it won't include Hong Kong,' he said. 'It's a real shame that we are based here but we can't stage the event. There is a lot of red tape but you just have to operate within the system. There is no choice.' THE Hong Kong Tourist Association was concerned by the cancellation of events, many of which drew thousands of visitors to the territory, but accepted the objections of police and other government agencies. 'If police say they have a concern then they have a concern and we understand that,' a spokesman said. 'We're very sorry about these events but we have to accept it. What we would like is a more streamlined procedure [for approval of events]. It is something we are constantly taking up with the Government.' The recent events in Wan Chai were not the only ones to be strangled by red tape. In May the opening concert of the Hong Kong Stadium by the internationally renowned Jarre was labelled a 'damp squib' after government red tape prevented him from going ahead with his planned fireworks spectacular. His pyrotechnics were subject to the approval of the Mines Division. That office however, classified 70 per cent of Jarre's on-stage effects as fireworks. Fireworks have to go before the Recreation and Culture Branch, which was unable to meet in time to approve his application. In July, the promoters of the Moscow State Circus claimed to have lost $4 million after its Hong Kong visit was cancelled after a delay in licensing. Because of delays by the Urban Council in approving the circus, said William Wong Hing of Capital Artists Limited, the Agriculture and Fisheries Department was not able to process the applications in time. Last year's 'Countdown 94' celebration in Victoria Park, enjoyed by 40,000 people, was refused a liquor licence. According to the organiser, police sent a letter after the event saying they would object to the holding of another event in Victoria Park on grounds of public safety. The staging of events in Hong Kong is strictly regulated, with organisers required to obtain at least one licence, but more often several, by gaining approval from government departments and agencies. A simple event - a music performance in a park - requires a temporary Places of Public Entertainment Licence and a permit from the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority. Promoters must submit six copies of the official application form together with five copies of plans to the Urban Council Licensing Authority at least 42 days before the planned event. The authority then circulates the application to all departments and agencies it deems relevant, generally including police, the Fire Services, and several Urban Council divisions. The licence will not be issued without approval of every department, regardless of the nature of their objections. The fee for such a licence is $1,950. However, for all but the simplest events more licences are required. If alcohol is to be sold, a temporary liquor licence must be obtained from police. If food is to be sold, another permit is required and if any other goods are to be sold a hawker's licence is needed.