Taxpayers’ money being buried under ground

  • The cost of a basement project at the West Kowloon arts hub is spiralling out of control, and guess who will be footing the bill?
PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 January, 2019, 11:13pm
UPDATED : Monday, 14 January, 2019, 11:28pm

Back when Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was still chief secretary, she had given assurances that the West Kowloon arts hub would not turn into a financial black hole, and that the money already budgeted would be all there was and no more. Maybe she believed it at the time; I did. How naive of me!

Back in 2014, the government told us a huge basement complex under the cultural district would cost HK$23 billion. Then, in 2017, that figure was still being quoted. And today? It’s still being used as a reference, though officials warn it is likely to cost quite a bit more.

Why this fabulous underground, designed by none other than British architectural firm Foster + Partners, when no one seems to know how much it will cost? It’s supposed to be crucial if we want the ground level of the district to be pedestrian-friendly, as most traffic will be directed underground.

It will link the Xiqu Centre and the Lyric Theatre complex, as well as providing easy access to shops, restaurants, flats and hotels both above and underground.

After all, in survey after survey, the public had said it wanted wide open spaces, so the government is only responding to people’s demands.

But the problem is when you have a government sitting on a massive pile of money, it goes big on grandiose projects, gets its budget projects all wrong, yet still manages to have them all built. Taxpayers will always be there to pick up the bill and, of course, no one in government is ever accountable.

In the summer of 2017, the government went to the Legislative Council and got an extra HK$3.6 billion for the basement. Now lawmakers have been told we need another HK$17.5 billion to finish the job.

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It’s unclear how much of the latest figure is included in the original HK$23 billion budget.

Between 2014 and now, the government still can’t tell us how much this mythical basement will actually cost. But officials say they may come up with a price tag, presumably more realistic, in the next few months.

What we do know is that the underground will cost more than the signature facilities on the ground. Critics warn it could add up to HK$30 billion. If so, we should count ourselves lucky. The price officials will eventually come up with may be a nasty surprise. Brace yourself for it.