Justify HK$640 million price tag for handover celebrations

The government is spending almost 10 times more on the 20th anniversary than it did on the 10th. But is it money well spent?

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 April, 2017, 12:48am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 May, 2017, 1:20pm

There was never any doubt that the 20th anniversary of our reunification with the mainland would be marked with an array of celebrations and promotions. The questions are what kind of events do we have and how much will they cost? Now that the government has unveiled a list of programmes – with a staggering price tag of HK$640 million – more questions have been raised.

The public is entitled to more explanation, given the amount is nearly 10 times the HK$69 million spent in marking the 10th anniversary in 2007. We are told that the events to be held in Hong Kong as well as on the mainland and overseas number around 500 in total. The bill for activities to be held on the mainland is expected to reach HK$40 million.

While celebrations and promotions are not necessarily wrong, it is important that the money be spent in a transparent and accountable manner. It was not until last Thursday that a press conference was held to provide more information. It would not be surprising if people are unable to judge whether the programmes are worth the money.

Anything goes for the HK$640 million Hong Kong handover extravaganza

While there are individual specific celebration programmes, it appears that bureaus and departments just packaged other routine functions under the theme of “Together – Progress – Opportunity”. Even pro-government lawmakers took issue with some events, such as a buildings clean-up in Sha Tin, free medical check-ups for the elderly and a school project competition on climate change.

Compared to the hundreds of billions spent by the government each year, the amount budgeted for the anniversary celebrations may seem like a drop in the ocean. But from taxpayers’ point of view, every cent matters. After all, misspending is not uncommon among departments, as reflected in the problems unearthed by the Audit Commission in its regular investigations.

There are those who think that the events are just political whitewashing. The prevailing political atmosphere may also dampen public incentive to celebrate. That’s why the government should redouble efforts to explain the expenditure and details.

The 20th anniversary is as much an important occasion for Hong Kong as for the nation. As a special administrative region of China, there is certainly room for reflection and improvements. That does not mean there is no cause for celebrations, though. The anniversary is indeed an ideal opportunity for a stocktaking of our achievements, and to tell the world our success story under the historic venture of “one country, two systems”. Officials must better explain the significance of the programmes and justify the spending.