Chief Secretary Carrie Lam yesterday addressed criticism over plans to build the Hong Kong Palace Museum, following protests by Hong Kong democracy activists.
Speaking at the launch of the public consultation for the project, she said there is nothing unusual in keeping the discussions and preparation work for the new museum confidential until the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Beijing's Palace Museum last month.
She explained that the MOU is the first step to signify the formal collaboration, which will be followed by the six-week public consultation and the signing of an agreement.
This is why now is the right time for the public to give its views and comments on how the agreement should be crafted, Mrs Lam said at the press conference.
The city's No. 2 official, who spearheaded the city's HK$3.5 billion (S$647 million) deal to build its own version of Beijing's celebrated Palace Museum, has come under fire for not seeking public feedback before signing the MOU on the development of the museum in the West Kowloon Cultural District.
The museum, which will showcase the treasures of imperial China, will be funded by the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust.
It will be built on a 10,000 sq m site by 2022. The project is part of larger celebrations by the city to mark the 20th anniversary of its return to China in 1997.
A WELCOME ARRANGEMENT
I think that many other big cities in the world would welcome the arrangement if they were offered such a deal: that the city provides the land, a charity provides the money and Beijing's Palace Museum lends its exhibits.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE LEUNG CHUN YING, who urges the city to 'move on and build' the museum after the public consultation.
Mrs Lam, 59, who is also chairman of West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, is expected to quit her post as Chief Secretary tomorrow to run for Chief Executive in March.
Critics have accused her of using the museum project to help her bid for the city's top post.
Yesterday, she was also grilled over her appointment of architect Rocco Yim for the project without going through the usual bidding process.
Mrs Lam explained that the project was so confidential that she had only four others in her team to work on the project with her since October 2015. She said it was only last May that she approached Mr Yim of Rocco Design Architects and engaged him as a consultant to study the possibility of using the West Kowloon Cultural District site for the museum.
Mr Yim was paid a fee of HK$4.5 million for the preliminary consultancy work. As the sum did not exceed HK$5 million, the board of West Kowloon Cultural District Authority's approval was not required.
Mrs Lam stressed that Mr Yim was appointed as the lead design architect for the museum project only on Nov 28 and his appointment was approved by the board.
She urged the public not to "politicise" the government's plan to build the Hong Kong Palace Museum, which she said would be good for Hong Kong.
She said she is very "excited" and "honoured" to be able to implement it for Hong Kong.
Mrs Lam said it is inevitable that the project has attracted criticism.
On Monday, Hong Kong democracy activists vowed to use the site of the new museum to commemorate China's bloody crackdown on student-led protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, which organises the annual June 4 vigil to mark the crackdown, staged a protest between the Hong Kong and Central MTR stations.
They chanted slogans calling for Beijing to acquit and release all political prisoners from the 1989 student movement.
Yesterday, Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying urged the city to "move on and build" the museum after the six-week public consultation.
"I think that many other big cities in the world would welcome the arrangement if they were offered such a deal: that the city provides the land, a charity provides the money and Beijing's Palace Museum lends its exhibits," said Mr Leung before he attended the weekly Executive Council meeting.