Former chief secretary Henry Tang is to lead the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, Chief Executive Carrie Lam has announced.

The past four chairpersons of its board have been the chief secretaries of the government, including Tang, Stephen Lam, Carrie Lam and the incumbent Matthew Cheung. By appointing Tang, he will be the first chair currently outside of the government to lead the Authority. His two-year term will start on October 1.

“I cannot think of a candidate better than Mr Henry Tang to take over the helm again,” said Lam. She said the relevant ordinance did not state the chair of the board had to be an official.

Henry Tang and Carrie Lam. screenshot.

Tang is a member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. He was a candidate in the 2012 chief executive election, but lost to Leung Chun-ying amid a scandal over a home extension. Tang supported Lam in this year’s chief executive race.

Lam said the Authority’s role will be changing from planning with the government, to day-to-day operation of the Cultural District’s projects and its commercial facilities.

“At the beginning of the West Kowloon Cultural District, we felt that the extent of the interaction with the government… in the infrastructure planning, it is desirable to have a senior official to chair the Authority,” she said. “But after nine years, when many of those aspects have been dealt with, this is a very good timing to find an unofficial to lead the Authority.”

West Kowloon Cultural District. File Photo: GovHK.

Lam’s only choice

Asked if Tang’s appointment was intended as an “insult” to Leung Chun-ying, Lam insisted Tang was the only candidate she had reached out to.

“If Henry declines, maybe I will let Matthew [Cheung] continue in the role,” she said, adding that it was unlikely that another official would be appointed as chair in the future.

Tang said he was happy to take on the job and will exercise his roles carefully, such as creating more educational programmes at the Cultural District.

“I know the chief executive is very emotionally attached to this project, she also hopes this project will become a centre for culture and arts in the ‘One Belt One Road’ and the [Pearl River Delta] ‘Bay Area’ initiatives,” he said. “I hope to reach 80 per cent of her expectations.”

File Photo: GovHK.

Palace Museum controversy

Lam said the Cultural District will raise the standard of living in Hong Kong, attract more tourists, and provide diverse and quality jobs to young people.

“Also it will help me as chief executive to connect with the mainland and the rest of the world,” she said.

Lam was responsible for the Hong Kong Palace Museum deal when she was chief secretary last year. The project sparked controversy as the deal did not go through any public consultation before it was announced. It is set to replace what would have been a performance venue at the West Kowloon Cultural District.

The museum will display exhibits borrowed from the Beijing Palace Museum.

Photo: West Kowloon Cultural District Authority.

In January, lawmaker Claudia Mo alleged that Lam had committed misconduct in public office, by directly appointing architect Rocco Yim as the consultant for the HK$3.5 billion museum project, instead of hosting a public competition to pick architects – the usual practice. Lam had admitted that she was the first government official to approach Yim last May, asking him to conduct a feasibility study as part of the project’s preliminary stage. Yim was paid HK$4.5 million for the study.

However, the Independent Commission Against Corruption has dropped its investigation into Lam’s involvement in the deal, Mo said.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.