HK delays white elephant, wrecks global reputation, apparently

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Earthquakes in Nepal come to a swift halt. Executions in Indonesia are postponed. Riots in Baltimore fizzle out. The planet drops everything to watch Hong Kong in shock and dismay. The Big Lychee’s reputation as a world city lies in tatters because of delays to its sports hub.

So says a South China Morning Post editorial. What ‘sports hub’, we ask? Why, the one slated long ago for Kai Tak – the one we all vaguely assumed had been scrapped as a pointless waste of money and space. The project is still on, it turns out. At least, that’s the plan. But (as the paper points out) two decades after it apparently became policy to turn Hong Kong into a centre for major sporting events, nothing has actually been done.

To their great credit, Legislative Council members have been holding up the HK$65 million funding necessary simply for the ‘pre-construction investigatory work’. This sounds like something to do with determining the site’s suitability – in order to avoid nasty surprises of the sort that befell the MTR when it found to its horror that there was hard stone beneath the New Territories, rather than something soft and mushy, which is why the cross-border Express Rail Link is costing an extra HK$20 billion or so. But the editorial implies that the ‘investigatory work’ would ‘throw some light on whether the proposed 50,000 seat stadium would be a white elephant on space that could be used for housing’.

So the HK$65 million is needed to discover whether we need to dedicate 28 hectares of space and billions of bucks to having a massive complex in which people wearing shorts would run round in circles. I could answer this question for a fraction of this amount (let’s say HK$10 million), and deliver my executive (one-word) summary this afternoon. I would like to think our lawmakers are thinking along similar lines. (The SCMP inadvertently hints at the same conclusion: 20 years after it became policy, we seem to be getting on quite happily without being ‘a centre for major sporting events’.)

We all know what is going on here. The government continues to suck vast amounts of the people’s wealth out of the economy and seeks to transfer yet more of it to its buddies in the construction industry, a sector that overlaps more than many realize with our old friends the property tycoons, who own all sorts of (often privately held) building and materials companies, which no doubt operate the usual cartel agreements. The standard excuse (and probably the original reason for the sports-hub policy circa 1995) is tourism. But with the city’s streets and transport systems sinking under the weight of swarms of visitors, the We Need More Tourists argument is – like residents’ patience – wearing thin. The SCMP (whose owner presumably holds shares in a cement company or something) latches onto an equally tired argument: we will ‘fall behind’ some tedious city we care little about, like Shanghai…

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…or Singapore. Whichever.

We can only wish our lawmakers well in holding up this particular boondoggle. I would love to think they are going to make the most of it, and rouse the people’s righteous anger. This is a classic opportunity to gather together the yellow-umbrella brigade, the students, the housewives, the taxi drivers and everyone else against the tycoons. We need homes, hospitals, nurseries, elderly care places and parks, or just tax cuts. There is no call, beyond a dozen subsidized loser-athletes, for multibillion-dollar stadiums with diamond-studded retractable roofs for people in shorts running round in circles.

But I’m not hearing any of that. My hunch is that the lawmakers are holding this up as part of their Grand Filibuster Everything Always Gesture, which does so little to impress the public and gives the government and its supporters ammunition to use against the pan-dems. Which would be both sad and typical.

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17 Responses to HK delays white elephant, wrecks global reputation, apparently

  1. PCC says:

    Yes, the fuming senior sports official quoted in the SCMP as referring to the sheer “political bloodymindedness” of LegCo just happens to have spent his entire career profiting from the building trade in Hong Kong. What a surprise.

  2. Cassowary says:

    Is there some kind of construction materials monopoly/cartel on pink bathroom tile? There must be a reason why every residential building and most municipal facilities built since circa 1993 have been clad in pink tiles. Who is behind the pink tile mafia and where can I find them so that I can beat them with a stick?

    I’d also like anyone to point to any megaproject anywhere in the world that wasn’t plagued by schedule and cost overruns. Boston’s Big Dig only finished 9 years late and 190% over budget (inflation adjusted). It leaked, bits fell off and killed someone, and there were criminal arrests and lawsuits up the wazoo. The MTR is doing quite well by comparison and it’s only a big deal because the political environment is already so dysfunctional.

  3. Spud says:

    I am suprised Hemlock did not pick-up on the Building Environment Assesment Method body which gives a developer a free 10% increase in GFA if they get a classification, does not matter what the classification is.

    Oh and the body is made up of…….well you all know it anyway, directors from developers are their related companies.

    http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/1777202/green-building-scheme-faces-criticism

  4. Borisbadanov says:

    It could ensure that the thugby 7s and the hordes of middle aged semicivilized sweaty oversized pink faced people who takeover HK Island in infantile fancy dress to disport their beer bellies late every March are stranded in Kwun Tong and other areas that would minimise the inconvenience and displeasure the rest of us face that weekend every year. No price is to small to pay for that.

  5. M says:

    I would love to see how Singapore manages to fill a 55K stadium with an actual sport event, not just National Day and evangelical Christian events

  6. AHW says:

    Well, I for one would love to see a decent sports stadium (with retractable roof) that could also be used for concerts, negating the need to schlep out to the barn that is AsiaWorld Expo at the airport. It would need good transport links, though — ie an MTR line, or a monorail or similar — but that is never going to happen. It would also need a decent pitch…

    Really, it should have been built and up-and-running by now.

  7. To be fair, Hong Kong has actually produced a handful of winner athletes in recent years, albeit in minority interest sports like windsurfing and cycling. But coming back to your main point, we already have a perfectly good – and grossly under-utilised – 40,00 capacity stadium, which is rarely filled to capacity except for the Sevens. The problem is that our government won’t let it be used for concerts, even though two hours of music every couple of weeks would probably create far less of a noise nuisance than the incessant din of piledrivers which routinely plagues most areas of Hong Kong.

  8. Probably says:

    @cassowary,
    Yes. The companies that supply materials to HK are all in a cartel that basically carve up the market based on the previous market share (so nothing can ever change as there is no effective competition). I have to admit it was a revelation to me when the boss of one of these companies explained this to me in detail but on reflection it answered a lot of questions in my head as to why innovation in industry is stifled in HK.
    The worst aspect of this is that the big money projects are all government (i.e tax payer) financed and no-one seems to bat an eyelid at what I understand to be a long established practice.

  9. Borisbadanov says:

    The market sharing and price fixing practices should be illegal once the competition law takes effect 1.12.15 if the enforcer is at all competent. In many places you’d sit in jail for doing just that, next to the Kwoks and Raphie baby.

  10. Joe Blow says:

    In the wake of the Great 2015 Bus Campaign Fiasco, which was actually a great success (according to GIS), it has been decided that Carrie & friends will now go out incognito, and under the cover of darkness, to hand out leaflets, key rings and ball pens to promote the “Let It Happen”, “Pocket it Now”, “The East is Red” thingy.

  11. NIMBY says:

    Probably

    Hemlock reviewed three books about HK’s cartels. If you are interested, then start with this review.
    http://biglychee.com/Hemlock/mus-goodstadt-poon.html

    My oldest, a world class sailor, is writing a paper on sports and government in Hong Kong, and even here the amount of corruption, nepotism and general propensity to beaurocratcy. The latest bit of malfecense is the government is going to up the payment to “A” class athelets from HK$10,000 to HK$20,000 per month, while cutting aid to “A” class invalids/handicaped to HK4000 per month. Most of the former are “owned” by clubs, who’s shareholders are friends of Lufsig, the later Lufsig wants to feed to the wolves. This increase in subvention means Lufsigs friends can cut the players pay (and increase their profits ) on the tax payer’s munificence. The diversion of any land use into a white elephant will come at a cost to the whole of society, including those invalids who just had their subvention cut.

    BTW, you might ask what is an “A class athlete in HK? It’s certainly not my eldest, irrespective of winning two world championship titles in sailing, because there are no “friends of CY” to profit. Apparently any slob in one of the soccer league teams, no matter how incompetent by world standards is.

    I just stumbled on a mob of old farts, playing Woodball, out at Chinese U. Yeah, I had never heard of it before too, sounds like slang for a sexual dysfunction. This fest out at Chinese U is held once a year just to qualify for the kickback subvention. If a friend of CY can find some strange game and get a corner on it, government subvention is sure to follow, much of the money going around and around until it gets into one pocket.

  12. Scotty Dotty says:

    In fairness, Timothy Fok is a world class clusterfuck, so you can’t say Hong Kong has zero sporting prowess.

  13. Monkey Reborn says:

    @ Scotty Dotty

    LOL

  14. AHW says:

    The complete lack of interest in Hong Kong’s cricket team (ranked 15th IN THE WORLD – the highest ranking of any HK sports team) from anyone in government can be put down predominantly to racism. The majority of the team are Hongkongers of Pakistani origin (and the few others are mainly colonial whiteys), therefore they “don’t count”. Hence the lack of support from the mega-whatever fund for the HK Sixes, hence no decent cricket ground…

  15. NIMBY says:

    @AHW,

    Lufsig and the rest of the local CCP are just following official policy dogma.
    https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2015-04-20/china-s-race-problem

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