Battle royal hangs over Lam CE bid

Editorial | 9 Jan 2017

The current SAR administration is, sadly, prone to making a mess of things that are clearly good.

The latest example of this is its agreement with Beijing to build a museum in the West Kowloon Cultural District at a breathtaking cost of HK$3.5 billion to display national treasures loaned from the Beijing Palace Museum, popularly known as the Forbidden City.

It's a project that should carry the least risk of politicking, and the controversy that now surrounds it could have been avoided had officials handled it in an open manner from the start.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and other senior officials should have known it is human nature for the practice of politics to be highly skeptical and that the thicker the fog of secrecy which shrouds a policy, the greater the suspicion becomes.

If they knew that and still opted to take the risk, their decision is now backfiring, becoming a political time bomb.

At the Legislative Council on Friday, Lam tried to deactivate the time bomb with the announcement of a six-week consultation on the design and operation of the museum.

However, was the move successful?

Not necessarily, for a few questions have yet to be properly answered.

Why has there, for example, been no consultation on the choice of a location for a project costing billions when the public is consulted on projects that are much smaller in scale?

In this regard, critics were not totally pointless when they said Tsim Sha Tsui and its vicinity are packed with museums and that locating the "palace museum" elsewhere may generate greater economic benefits to the SAR.

Another concern is why architect Rocco Yim Sen-kee was chosen to head its design without having to go through normal procedures, bearing in mind even listed companies abide by the policy of inviting rival bids to ensure the best possible deal?

Then there is the question of the Jockey Club's HK$3.5-billion donation.

Similar to the funding of the airport's third runway, the administration is trying to steer clear of partisan hassles in Legco by asking the Jockey Club to foot the bill for the museum.

The need for funding shortcuts has its roots in a poor executive-legislative relationship. If that is improved, tricky shortcuts at the expense of normal constitutional scrutiny will no longer be needed.

If Lam does, as reported, resign as chief secretary on Thursday to clear the way for a run at the chief executive post, the controversy will surely haunt her election campaign unless she can bring a satisfactory ending to it in the near future.

All it takes to ascend to the CE post may be mere majority support from the 1,200-strong Election Committee, but a higher level of popularity cannot but bode well for governance under a new administration.

Now that the political miscalculation has been made, Lam and her successor will have no choice but to press ahead with the project with a view to launching it in time for the 20th anniversary of the handover. It remains to be seen how far the political damage can be minimized.

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