West Kowloon Cultural District

Henry Tang becomes first non-official to head West Kowloon Cultural District Authority

Tang, who served as chief secretary between 2007 and 2011, was the first chairman of the WKCDA when it was established in 2008

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 September, 2017, 9:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 25 September, 2017, 2:38pm

For the first time in nine years, Hong Kong’s arts and cultural hub will have a chairman who is not a government official – Henry Tang Ying-yen – to head the project as it enters a “new stage of development”.

On Monday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor reappointed Tang, who served as the former chief secretary from 2007 to 2011, as the chairman of the West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD) Authority, who will assume the two-year position from October 1.

It will be the first time a non-government official has chaired the board, which governs the planning, development, operation and maintenance of the arts and cultural facilities in the WKCD quarter.

Since the establishment of the board and the WKCD Authority in 2008, the board has been chaired by the chief secretary or the city’s No 2 official.

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Tang, 65, was the first chairman while serving as chief secretary, followed by Stephen Lam Sui-lung in 2011, Lam in 2012 and current Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung.

“Mr Tang has this very unique experience of working in the government and in the private sector ... I have every confidence that under Henry’s leadership, the WKCD project will be brought to new heights. I’m sure the community at large will welcome this appointment at this point and time,” Lam said.

Lam said it was an appropriate time for the project to have a new leader, as the project has “already turned a new page”.

“At the beginning of the WKCD project, we felt that because of the extent of interaction with the government, in the planning process [and] infrastructure planning, it’s desirable to have a senior official to chair the WKCD board. But after nine years, when many of those aspects have been dealt with, this is a very good timing to find a non-official to lead,” she said.

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Mr Tang said: “I am deeply grateful to the chief executive for appointing me as chairman of the board of WKCDA. WKCD is the most important cultural investment of Hong Kong. I had the privilege to lead WKCD through its early stages of development. As WKCD has progressed from the planning phase to the operation phase, I eagerly look forward to working closely with the fellow members of the board to achieve the vision and mission of WKCD.”

Stretching across 40 hectares of reclaimed land, construction of a number of performing arts venues is now close to completion. The Xiqu Centre, which will showcase Chinese opera will be ready next year; Freespace, an open-air area with a stage and indoor black box theatre will be completed in 2019 and the Lyric Theatre Complex in 2021.

Hong Kong’s replica of Beijing’s Palace Museum, which was announced late last year and widely criticised for its lack of consultation and transparency, is slated for completion in 2022.

The authority has been plagued by a number of governance hiccups. Two of the authority’s previous CEOs have resigned before their contract ended.

Tang, who attended a WKCD Authority meeting on Monday along with Lam, said he was “very honoured” to accept the new role, saying he would “go all out” to help the arts hub come to fruition.

Tang, who was in the running for chief executive against former leader Leung Chun-ying in 2012, has served as a legislative councillor since 1991 for seven years and joined the government in 2002. After he lost in the race to Leung, Tang has served as a board member at his own family business, Peninsula Knitters, which is one of the largest knitwear manufacturers in Hong Kong with over 5,000 employees worldwide.

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Lawmaker Tanya Chan raised concerns that the WKCD project would become commercialised under Tang’s leadership, due to his business background.

“There are worries that the project would just become another real estate project when he comes on board,” Chan said.

Chan also worried that the departure of a government official in a leading role would make it more difficult to monitor the progress of the project, given the need of a “neutral” role to scrutinise developments on the completion of infrastructure and financial deals.

The WKCD Authority board consists of 24 members, seven of whom are government officials.

WKCD Authority board member Lo Wai-kwok said he was not concerned that Tang’s appointment would mean that the arts hub would turn into a commercial project.

“While we really want to make the WKCD a regional centre for promoting arts and culture, it also has to be carried out in a sustainable and viable manner. For this purpose, suitable commercial arrangement is a must actually, and it’s not really contradicting to the ultimate goal of promoting arts and culture,” Lo said.

The project was given an initial grant of HK$21.6 billion, but it needs extra funding for its remaining work. The individual facilities have also experienced numerous construction delays.