Surgery not band-aid for Ocean Park

Editorial | Mary Ma 14 May 2020

The future of Ocean Park is a multi-billion-dollar question. Much to our regret, it appears to be too expensive a question for an official to field.

When Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah asked the Finance Committee for an urgent sum of HK$5.4 billion to bail out the iconic theme park in Wong Chuk Hang, he failed to answer the question properly.

The park has been stamped as a black hole amid fears that, if the committee approves the funding, lawmakers will merely help to kick the can down the road without actually solving the basic problem.

That calls for the theme park to be reformed into something unique, with values that neither Hong Kong Disneyland nor competitors in Guangdong possess.

The funding call reflects poorly on how government officials have been dealing with problems in bits and pieces rather than giving strategic overviews.

The theme park can be retained for future generations - but this will be possible only after a major exercise to give it a new lease on life with a distinct identity.

While that is a job for Yau's bureau more than the park itself, what we have heard so far in relation to this particular funding request is a crude warning that can be summarized in five words: give it or it dies.

According to the administration, of the HK$5.4 billion being requested, HK$3 billion would repay commercial loans and the remainder would cover operational cost including salaries and regular maintenance.

This may save the park and keep the staff employed for a year, but not longer.

If, by that time, Yau is not promoted to a more senior position, he will have to come back to ask Legco for even more money to keep kicking the can even further until the road ends somewhere for someone else to pick up the can.

Perhaps the park's HK$10.6 billion development masterplan will be brought up again, but that is hardly an impressive idea.

Besides the vast site, Ocean Park is a valuable soft asset.

It is the only world-class aquarium in southern China - and it is this niche that the authority should vigorously seek to expand to elevate it to an absolutely professional level instead of investing more money in thrill rides or jumping machines.

It may be best for the park to give up rides and machines totally because there are already plenty of similar play things in Sunny Bay and across the border in Guangdong.

Many people love watching marine life, which gives them a wonderful opportunity to learn to respect the animal kingdom, the environment and the planet. An ability to appreciate nature is also a component of soft power.

In reforming the facility, the government will also be able to address the moral hazard that Ocean Park has become too big a project, too much a collective memory to let go. As far as far as I can see, that is all but a myth.

Unless the park is reformed, it remains a worthless zombie.

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