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LCQ1: Hatching of the project to develop a Hong Kong Palace Museum
     Following is a question by the Hon Helena Wong and a reply by the Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr Lau Kong-wah, in the Legislative Council today (February 8):


     At present, the position of the Chairman of the Board of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority (WKCDA) is concurrently held by the Chief Secretary for Administration.  On December 23 last year, the former Chairman of the Board of WKCDA (the Board) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Director of the Palace Museum in Beijing on the development of the Hong Kong Palace Museum (HKPM) in the West Kowloon Cultural District.  WKCDA had not consulted the public nor this Council on the HKPM development project beforehand, and only afterwards did it launch a six-week Public Engagement (PE) exercise on the project.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether it has assessed if the practice that the former Board Chairman had not consulted the public before she signed the MOU is against the spirit of section 19 of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority Ordinance, which stipulates that WKCDA shall, in relation to matters concerning the development or operation of arts and cultural facilities, related facilities, ancillary facilities, etc., consult the public at such time and in such manner as it considers appropriate; whether the Government will consider amending that provision to expressly provide that WKCDA must consult the public before making any decision on the development of its arts and cultural facilities;
(2) given that some members of the public have regarded the prevailing PE exercise as a fake consultation, because the scope of views to be collected from the public and stakeholders in the exercise is limited to the design and operation of HKPM as well as the main focuses and directions of its exhibition and educational activities, whether it knows why views on "whether or not the development of HKPM is supported" are not included in the scope of views to be collected; whether WKCDA will shelve the MOU and conduct a comprehensive public consultation first on whether or not the development of HKPM is supported and on the relevant details of the project; and
(3) given that while the former Board Chairman had set up a core team to examine the feasibility of the HKPM project in October 2015, and the WKCDA management had engaged a consultant in June 2016 for the provision of advance consultancy services, some members of the Board have indicated that they were not informed of the project until October or November last year, whether the Government knows why the WKCDA management did not report to members of the Board and the relevant subcommittee of this Council on the project at an earlier juncture; whether it has assessed if the Board has been sidelined by a few people, which has resulted in a lack of transparency and democracy in the making of its policy decisions; whether the Government will restructure the Board; if it will not, of the reasons for that?

     The West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD) is an important cultural project of Hong Kong.  According to the Planning Themes and Design Principles of the Development Plan approved in January 2013, the WKCD is to be developed into a world-class integrated arts and cultural district comprising local, traditional as well as international elements, to enrich the arts and cultural life, to create job opportunities and benefit the tourism industry, and to make Hong Kong an international cultural metropolis.  Developing the Hong Kong Palace Museum (HKPM) in WKCD is conducive to realising the vision of WKCD by enhancing the diversity of the facilities therein.  As an arts and cultural facility, the HKPM is a use that is always permitted under the approved Development Plan.
     My reply to various parts of the question raised by the Member is as follows:

(1) The development and operation of the WKCD involve a wide range of matters covering not only the building and operation of arts and cultural facilities, but also the planning and operation of commercial facilities, public open space and other communal facilities.  As the nature and circumstances of different proposals or projects vary, the stakeholders involved in public consultation, the manner and procedure adopted, as well as the timing and content for consultation would also differ.  As such, the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority Ordinance (the Ordinance) provides the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority (WKCDA) with the flexibility to consult the public at such time and in such manner as it considers appropriate.  In fact, when the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority Bill was examined by the Committee of the whole Council in 2008, the Government already pointed out clearly that this was the legislative spirit of the relevant clause in the Bill (i.e. section 19 of the Ordinance).  On the contrary, if WKCDA is rigidly required to consult the public on  all matters at a specific time and in a specific manner, not only is such requirement unable to cater for all projects and circumstances, it would also fail to address the needs of different stakeholders. Such requirement is neither appropriate nor in line with the legislative spirit of the Ordinance.

     Our paper presented to the special meeting of the House Committee earlier on has explained the special circumstances of the HKPM project.  Many artefacts of the Palace Museum's exquisite collections are national treasures classified as grade one relics, and the loan of artefacts to other museums outside the Mainland on a long term basis (i.e. arrangement for the export of cultural relics) is subject to stringent regulations and restrictions.  Under the current practice, the number of artefacts on loan to a museum outside the Mainland (including museums in Hong Kong) is normally limited to 120 pieces/sets and the loan period is normally limited to about three months.  The loan of almost 1 000 pieces/sets of invaluable artefacts of the Palace Museum collections to Hong Kong for long term display is unprecedented.  Hence, to take forward the HKPM project, a prerequisite is to obtain the support of the relevant Mainland authorities, including the unprecedented lifting of the relevant state restrictions on the number of artefacts of Palace Museum collections on loan and the duration of the loan period.  Without the support of the relevant Mainland authorities, it is not possible for either WKCDA or the Government to take forward the HKPM project on its own.
     Furthermore, both the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and its contents require the approval of the relevant Mainland authorities.  This is also the first step for establishing the feasibility of developing the HKPM project in WKCD.  Prior to the signing of the MOU, WKCDA would not have any basis for announcing the proposal unilaterally or undertaking public consultation for the proposal.  As soon as the signing and the content of the MOU were agreed by the relevant Mainland authorities, the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and WKCDA immediately arranged the signing of the MOU together with the Palace Museum and invited the media to attend the signing ceremony and the press conference held subsequently to introduce the proposal in detail.  Thereafter, the immediate past Chief Secretary for Administration and WKCDA Board Chairman attended the special meeting of the House Committee on January 6 to explain in detail the preparation and various considerations for the HKPM project.  She further addressed the various questions raised by the media and the public in even greater detail in the press conference held on January 10 and announced the launch of the public consultation exercise for the project.

(2) WKCDA launched the six-week public consultation exercise on  January 11 according to plan and welcomes public to offer views on the project during the consultation period, including its various details such as the design and operation of the HKPM as well as the main focuses and directions of its exhibitions and educational programmes.  Members of the public may express their views through filling in questionnaires at the exhibition at City Gallery in Central or on the website of WKCD.  Views expressed need not be limited to the areas mentioned above.  WKCDA will consolidate and consider comprehensively all the views collected, report to the Board and inform the public.

(3) As in other public bodies, WKCDA has established a system of internal delegation of authority.  The Board, its Committees, and executives at different levels are delegated with authority to undertake different matters so that the organisation as a whole can operate effectively and smoothly.  As every project needs to undergo a preparatory process from conception to implementation, the Management has the responsibility to undertake preliminary study and planning, ascertain the technical feasibility, and submit information to the Board such that the Board would have the basis for an informed discussion of the proposal submitted by the Management.  In doing so, the Management is duly fulfilling its responsibility.  By the same token, in respect of the HKPM project, the Management had to undertake studies and assessments in relation to site selection, the technical feasibility as well as funding arrangement for the project and discuss the delivery model with the Palace Museum for this collaborative project before it was in a position to submit a concrete proposal to the Board.  After discussion, the Board of WKCDA agreed to take forward the HKPM project in WKCD and the related follow-up work at its meeting on November 28, 2016.

     The Board of WKCDA is established in accordance with section 6 the Ordinance.  It comprises the Chairman, the Chief Executive Officer, not less than eight and not more than 15 members who are not public officers, and three public officers.  When appointing the Board of WKCDA, the Government would take into account a number of factors including the statutory requirement on the composition, and the ability, expertise, experience as well as commitment to public service of the appointees.  We consider that the current composition of the WKCDA Board is appropriate.

     Thank you, President.
Ends/Wednesday, February 8, 2017
Issued at HKT 12:15
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