Friday, January 14, 2011

Asian Games bid faces defeat in decisive vote


At least 50 per cent of lawmakers say they will reject HK$6b proposal

The HK local government faces defeat in the legislature for its controversial HK$6 billion bid to host the 2023 Asian Games. 

At least one in two lawmakers expressed opposition to the proposal ahead of the Legislative Council Finance Committee's vote to approve the bid in principle on Friday.

Individual calls by the South China Morning Post (SEHK: 0583, announcements, news) have established 30 of the 60 lawmakers, including 16 from the two largest political parties - the Democratic Party and the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong - will vote against the motion.

The government needs at least 30 of the 59 votes to win - the Legco president does not vote. 

Meanwhile, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen yesterday made an impassioned plea for the bid. 

"The costs of hosting the Asian Games will have no impact on government spending in areas such as education, welfare and health care," he said. "We want to host the Games just as we want to promote sports for the people of Hong Kong."

Only 14 lawmakers have openly pledged support for the bid. The Liberal Party, which has three legislators, and some independents said they were still undecided. 

The community was shocked in September when officials initially forecast the direct costs of hosting the Games would be HK$14.5 billion, plus HK$30 billion in indirect costs for new sports facilities that are planned whether or not Hong Kong hosts the event.

Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing subsequently argued that only HK$6 billion would be needed in direct costs while any outstanding amount could be met through public fund-raising. 

Despite the exercise in damage control, the government has lost momentum, with many critics expressing distrust in the revised low-figure estimate and its ability to contain costs. Last month, the home affairs panel voted against the bid in a non-binding proposal supported by cross-party members. At the meeting, legislators heard that the event could actually end up costing the city HK$54 billion.

If the city goes ahead with the bid, the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong will have to submit bidding documents to the Olympic Council of Asia by February 15. If the bid is successful, the government will then seek the Finance Committee's formal approval for the costs needed to run the Games. 

Liberal Party chairwoman Miriam Lau Kin-yee said the government last week provided a detailed document on the Games to her party to answer questions it had about the proposed bid. The party will hold a meeting today to discuss the document. But she said: "So far we are holding a negative attitude towards the plan." 

Some lawmakers have also said they are puzzled at the government's lukewarm effort in lobbying for their support.

Chim Pui-chung, of the financial services sector, said he might vote against the motion but would wait to see whether the administration could convince him otherwise in the remaining days. "I consider hosting the Games beneficial for Hong Kong. But I oppose it because of the poor work of the SAR government," he said, adding that no official had approached him for support so far.

Independent pan-democrat Dr Joseph Lee Kok-long, of the health services sector, said he was inclined to oppose the bid but had yet to make a final decision. "At times around November last year, officials would still remind us to read documents about the bid," he said. "But no official has lobbied me recently. Perhaps it is because they are just back from Christmas and new year holidays." 

Chan Kin-por, an independent lawmaker representing the insurance sector, did not know the vote would be held on Friday until contacted by the Post. "I have not yet decided. My major considerations are whether hosting the Games will encourage more people to engage in sports activities, and whether public money is well spent." No government official had canvassed for his vote, he said.

The medical sector's Dr Leung Ka-lau was likewise confused about the voting date. "Really? Is the vote coming so soon?" he asked, adding he was also undecided. "My main concern is how many Hong Kong people will participate; and how much they can participate if the city hosts the Games."

Paul Tse Wai-chun, of the tourism sector, said he was conducting a survey with about 1,000 travel agents and hotels to gather views from his constituents. Results of the survey would affect his decision. 

Two other independents, Lam Tai-fai and Dr Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, said they would wait for more information from the government before making a decision. 

However, DAB Legco caucus convenor Ip Kwok-him has taken a hard line against the government. He said his normally pro-government party would require all its legislators to stay in Legco and vote against the motion on Friday. 

A new University of Hong Kong survey found 57 per cent of Hongkongers opposed hosting the Games.

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