The chief executive-elect’s office must be cost effective

Even though the original budget of HK$40 million for an office that will only be used for three months has been cut by 10 per cent, taxpayers still find it hard to swallow

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 February, 2017, 2:37am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 February, 2017, 2:37am

Prudent spending remains an art yet to be mastered by officials in Hong Kong. The latest example is budgeting some HK$40 million for an office that will be only used by the incoming chief executive for three months. Even though the government has now identified savings of more than 10 per cent under a so-called no-frill decoration approach, taxpayers still find it hard to swallow.

According to the original estimates, the rent and fitting-out of the 1,100 square metre office in Champion Tower on Garden Road account for three quarters of the budget. The rest covers salaries for 28 staff members and other departmental costs. Amid criticisms by lawmakers from across the political spectrum, officials reduced the budget by HK$4.63 million by adopting an open office layout for non-directorate staff and using paint instead of wallpaper.

There can be no dispute over the need of an office and a supporting team for the leader-in-waiting. The issue is cost-effectiveness. To a government that spends hundreds of billions of dollars a year, a HK$35 million office may seem like a drop in the ocean. But when it comes to fiscal prudence, taxpayers rightly expect every penny to be spent wisely. The savings from decoration show cost control has not been vigorous enough.

No frills: Hong Kong government slashes cost of interim office for next chief executive

The colonial government came under fire for wasting millions of dollars in 1997 after former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa rejected the office he had been given. There was no issue when Tung Chee-hwa and Donald Tsang Yam-kuen were both elected to serve another term. In 2012, Leung Chun-ying was given an interim office in the west wing of the central government offices. As it only involved staff costs and departmental spending, the budget was only one-fifth of this year’s budget.

But this time officials say there is no extra space for such an office in their Central and Admiralty offices. The need for a chief executive-elect’s office will emerge whenever there is a leadership change. It makes sense to sort out the matter in a cost-effective manner once and for all.