Friday, August 05, 2005

Hong Kong's Central Government Offices

In our posts we generally do not comment on current events, but we find Donald Tsang's plan to build a HK$6 billion office on the Tamar site in Central a fascinating proposal.

Donald Tsang says that the government will ultimately "make a profit" on the building because since the Central Government Headquarters on Lower Albert Road and the Murray Building will be vacated, the sales of those prime plots to developers would generate more revenue.

Be that as it may though, it seems that the government is hiding behind its land policy the fact that they are still spending HK$6 billion in taxpayer money to fund their vanity project right on the waterfront of Hong Kong's most expensive district, Central. That's the same amount of money it cost HSBC to build their headquarters building on 1 Queen's Road in 1987, then the most expensive building in the world.

It seems that a certain sense of entitlement comes naturally to government officers. Who takes up the top dozen stories of the IFC 2 Tower in Central, the tallest, newest and most impressive skyscraper in Hong Kong? Is it an investment bank? A hedge fund? A law firm or consultancy, perhaps? No - it is the Hong Kong Monetary Authority. They feel they deserve it for all the hard work the do in putting most of HK's reserves into US dollars and a small bit in Euros. It is quite interesting how civil servants in Hong Kong failed to appreciate how little sympathy the rest of Hong Kong felt for them when they got small pay cuts during the last bout of lean years.

Then there is the historic tradition of government being in Central. Other than the first few years when the Government House temporarily stood in Wanchai, Central has been the home of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. Even after the war, a temporary headquarters was set up in the French Mission Building (today the Court of Final Appeal) in Central until a move back to Lower Albert Road could be engineered.

Why are they moving anyway? Rita Fan, who presides over Legco, says that by 2008 the chamber in the Old Supreme Court building designed by Aston Webb and Ingress Bell (who were superstars of the Victorian era, and also did the south face of Buckingham Palace not to mention the Victoria and Albert Museum) will be too small to hold some additional members. Hmm, I wonder why the American House of Representatives doesn't move away from the Capital, or the House of Commons in the UK away from Parliament? But no, no, no, that won't do to stay in their current home, and my dear, moving to the Eastern part of the island or God Forbid! to Kowloon is simply too gauche to contemplate.

Well, this is the reason I've come up with for the move. The government of Hong Kong keeps allowing land reclamation to push the waterfront further towards Kowloon. As the technocrats in charge of Hong Kong must be the masters of all they survey, that also includes having a harbourfront view. That is of course, why the empty plot of land right on the waterfront must go to them instead of to some poor peon developers like Li Ka-Shing or Lee Shau-Kee that'd only be able to bid some paltry sum of say HK$10 billion for the site. Hong Kong's people would be much better served if that money didn't go into the community coffers and went to the bureaucrats instead. Well, I'm glad that's all been cleared up.


Anonymous said...

Donald Tsang's argument that the move to Tamar would create job opportunties was especially flimsy. Maybe we should move the Government headquarters every few years just to keep the construction workers employed!

The "profit" argument was probably based on the premise that the existing Government site could be sold for residential development. But is the site really suitable for private flats? I really doubt it.

Jing said...

That building is missing something, ah i know, a giant flaming eye that can cast its gaze on all the lowly non-bureaucrat peons of Hong Kong.

Dave and Stefan said...

Sorry, would have responded to your comments earlier, but I've been away... Jing, I totally agree with you, I have often myself thought that the IFC Tower 2 was like the Tower of Mordor, given its razor-sharp claws at the top of the ominous edifice.

I think they may in fact be able to build a very nice deluxe residential property on it. Hong Kong developers have a knack for maximizing the use of their space...but I think that the government could make that prime site available without staying in Central.

Really, the government always decries how other areas outside of Central are neglected, and the Urban Renewal Authority spends millions trying to freshen up neighborhoods. But all that money goes to waste if the government can't even accept their self-perceived loss of face in moving out of Central. I mean, look at Korea. There the government is thinking of moving out of Seoul altogether!!!