A close political aide of Hong Kong’s leader will take charge as interim CEO of the authority managing the city’s troubled arts hub next month, as its board chairman dismissed concerns that installing a civil servant at the helm would stifle creativity.
Confirming a Post report, the government on Wednesday named Betty Fung Ching Suk-yee as the new head of the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority, replacing Duncan Pescod, who is leaving at the end of this month amid acrimony.
Fung, who is director of the government’s Policy Innovation and Coordination Office, is to hold the acting CEO position at the arts hub for about six months from December 7.
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Henry Tang Ying-yen, chairman of the authority’s board, welcomed the secondment, with the global recruitment of a permanent replacement ongoing.
Meeting reporters on Wednesday afternoon, he brushed off questions that filling the role with a civil servant might render the district’s development spiritless.
“The West Kowloon Cultural District Authority is not a government organisation. I believe that whichever positions government officials take, they will keep acting in accordance with their positions’ responsibility,” he said.
He added the district would remain an arts-led operation, warning its development would be limited otherwise.
The authority dropped a bombshell in late September by announcing Pescod’s departure, sparking a bitter row between the management and its governing board.
Pescod, a former Hong Kong civil servant who became the CEO five years ago, said he was being forced to step down nine months before his term was due to expire, without any explanation.
Board members retaliated, criticising his leadership both publicly and in private, accusing him of lacking financial discipline and taking a cavalier approach to major changes in projects.
In 2014-15, a global search undertaken by the authority did not produce a suitable candidate. Pescod was then promoted to CEO from his position as chief operating officer.
Some observers at the time said his expertise in construction would be an asset to the building projects involved in taking the district forward.
Fung, a former head of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) and ex-permanent secretary for home affairs, was deeply involved in the early stages of the cultural district’s development.
In 2017, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor hailed Fung as part of her five-strong “core team” bringing about the Hong Kong version of Beijing’s Palace Museum in the district. The Hong Kong Palace Museum is expected to open in June 2022.
Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip Tak-kuen expressed confidence that Fung would continue to serve the community with dedication and professionalism, praising her “proven leadership and management skills”, as well as her experience in policymaking and administration in relation to arts and culture.
But Oscar Ho Hing-kay, associate professor of practice in cultural management at Chinese University described Fung as a boring but predictable choice, as he described the district’s development as plagued with problems.
Noting that the director of the local palace museum was also a former LSCD official, he said: “The government seems to be taking over part of the West Kowloon project.
“Don’t forget that when it was first established, it aimed to run independently.”
Pro-establishment lawmaker Edward Lau Kwok-fan, a member of a Legislative Council committee that monitors the development of the arts hub, argued Fung would only stay for a transitional period and it was an acceptable arrangement given her familiarity with the project.
Lau said he hoped she could oversee the smooth launch of the museums still under construction, get a grip on the district’s poor financial position and review its management of staff.
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