Our museums should be free to develop their potential themselves
Breaking away from government control and stifling rules could allow museums to become even more attractive
Museums in Hong Kong are no match for the Louvre in Paris or the British Museum in London. But with no fewer than 14 government-run museums to choose from, such as the Museum of History and the Heritage Museum, the city is justifiably proud of the wide range of interests on offer. The public also seems to be satisfied. If surveys are anything to go by, nine in 10 people are happy with their visiting experience. It would be tempting to conclude that officials are doing such a good job that there is no need for a change.
The truth is that our museums could be even better if we embraced the world trend for museums to break away from government control. Unlike the Louvre or the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, most of our museums are still run by the government under an umbrella legislation covering facilities like cemeteries, slaughterhouses and sewers. The rigid rules and civil service staffing make resource allocation and recruitment of talent inflexible. Innovation and development are also compromised.
While there have been no fewer than four studies about separating museum operations from the Leisure and Cultural Services Department since 2000, the government remains non-committal, primarily because of opposition from existing staff and concerns over the long-term financial burden. Officials instead sought to ward off the pressure for reform by pumping money into renovation and tweaking the advisory machinery.
The Our Hong Kong Foundation, a think tank led by former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa, is to be commended for reviving the debate. Under its proposed “publicly funded, highly autonomous governance model”, there will be more flexibility in talent recruitment and sponsorships. The idea of a statutory body with a governing board would also help with checks and balances and development. We urge the government to seriously consider the proposal this time to maximise the potential of our museums.