THE Jockey Club uses charity work to conceal the privilege it enjoys in monopolising the territory's racing business and deploying the massive funds generated from racing, according to legislators. Such privilege left over by Hong Kong's colonial rule should now be subject to challenge and the club should move to a new regime of greater accountability and transparency, they said. Instead of continuing the present system of having the club deciding on how to deploy the surplus and how charities and community projects be selected to benefit from the club's donations, they suggested a joint committee with stewards and the public sector participation be set up in selecting the schemes. The club should also consider setting a theme for donations every year so that voluntary organisations seeking help can have a better reference in assessing the chances of securing the donations. Legislative Councillors told the South China Morning Post they had no interest in taking over control of the money and if any selection body be formed it was preferable that it be made up of independent figures, but weighted towards those involved in welfare. Accountability was important as the funds managed by the club, while not being taxpayers' money, was nevertheless public money. A deputy to the Chinese National People's Congress Dorothy Liu Yiu-chu also agreed that there had to be a more open channel to improve the transparency and accountability of the club. 'It should be subject to monitoring. The Jockey Club is very influential and it controls very considerable resources. It is a major enterprise,' she said. 'If they use such resources as favours to others, it is tantamount to very important political power.' Democratic Party legislator Cheung Man-kwong said the racing monopoly and the power to manage the fund was a privilege left by colonial history. Mr Cheung said the charities business the club engaged helped its members to form a very powerful web of political-economic relationship tantamount to a ruling force in the society. 'The Jockey Club uses the charities work to conceal the privilege it enjoys. The charities activity is just a safety valve for the club,' said Mr Cheung. 'The privilege is bestowed upon the club in a unique era, in a unique place through a unique gambling form which sustains a unique operation. But such privilege should be subject to challenge in the run-up to 1997,' he said. 'The colonial regime granted the club the legal right to run gambling, but monitoring on the club is very loose,' he said. 'The crux of the problem is that there must be a credible third party to be there as a check to make sure that the use of the funds is not abused,' he said. Mr Cheung said that a joint committee with public sector participation could be set up to serve as a check and as a channel to reflect the community's views to the club. Independent legislator Dr Leong Che-hung also agreed that existing monitoring on the disposal of the club's fund was very loose and setting up a joint committee was one way to address the present problem. Such selection body would help the public see the reason for selecting certain projects and rejecting others, he said. 'All I want to know is what you guys are doing. There must be accountability,' said Dr Leong. Speaking from his own experience through his involvement in the AIDS Foundation and the Academy of Medicine, the club had no set rules in following up the plan it sponsored, Dr Leong said. For the AIDS Foundation, he said the club had laid down very stringent rules so that it almost commented on the management structure of the organisation but for the Academy of Medicine, there was no input at all. 'It seems that at present, the stewards have very great influence in the final selections of the projects. Somehow, if you get to the ears of the steward who's really pushed hard for you, you get a high chance of having it. There simply isn't any mechanism to show how applicants are selected for getting the donations,' he added. He believed, however, that having the Government assume control over the funds, it would undermine the chance of many non-governmental organisations to secure assistance. Dr Leong also hoped that the club could have a long-term policy to determine their area of focus every year. For instance, they could set a theme every year so that this year they could focus on the elderly and next year, they would emphasise on welfare. 'Without a theme, you really let the public see that there is so much favouritism,' he said. Responding to the suggestion of yearly themes, club chairman John Swaine said: 'It is a bit gimmicky, isn't it. If there's a need, we will look at it. Setting a theme? What about other projects worthy of the system but happen not to fall within that theme, do we neglect them?' 'I think we would rather look at projects as they come along, as the need is demonstrated.' Another independent legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing said Mr Swaine was also the President of the Legislative Council and he should understand the concept of public accountability. 'The club should take initiatives to be accountable, to explain how the fund is disposed. There should be a new regime now,' she said.