Legislative Councillor Paul Tse challenges HK government on transparency in use of public funds in commercial endeavours

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Insert picture: Paul Tse

21st February 2024 – (Hong Kong) In today’s session of the Hong Kong Legislative Council (LegCo), a pointed query from the Hon Paul Tse brought to light concerns over the government’s opacity regarding the allocation of public funds to commercial endeavours. The government’s refusal to disclose sensitive commercial information has sparked debate over its accountability in managing the taxpayer’s money.

Tse’s inquiry highlighted a recent $16 million sponsorship for a high-profile football exhibition match, which was sanctioned without the organiser’s contract with the football club being made available for council scrutiny. This case has become emblematic of the growing unease among legislators around the veil of ‘commercial secrets’ that the government uses to sidestep closer inspection of public-private financial arrangements.

Mr Kevin Yeung, the Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism, defended the government’s stance in his reply. He emphasised the government’s dual role as both a regulator and facilitator, reiterating their commitment to promoting culture, sports, and tourism development while ensuring adherence to laws and regulations.

Yeung outlined the procedures followed when seeking LegCo approval for funding projects, which include a thorough briefing of key features and financial arrangements to ensure transparency. However, he acknowledged that when it comes to commercial information, the government must weigh policy, legal considerations, and contractual obligations against the public’s right to know.

The “M” Mark System, a key component of the government’s initiative to foster international sports events in Hong Kong, was scrutinised. The government maintains that the system’s criteria for event sponsorship are rigorous and that the organiser of the football match had not received funds as they withdrew their application. Yeung assured the council that the CSTB is reviewing its approval and monitoring mechanisms to strengthen the system further.

The governance of the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal and the financial support extended to the Ocean Park Corporation and Hong Kong Disneyland Resort were also addressed. Yeung detailed the measures taken to ensure legislative oversight and public accountability in these instances, noting that no subsidies were provided to the Cruise Terminal operator and that comprehensive loan details were disclosed to the FC.

For major land development projects such as the Northern Metropolis and Kau Yi Chau Artificial Islands, Yeung assured the council that the government is committed to transparency, even if alternative approaches to open tender are employed.