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How much is Airport Authority spending to promote third runway?

South China Morning Post – 16 July 2011

The Airport Authority is obviously prepared to plough every furrow to disseminate its message that it will be the end of civilisation as we know it if its very costly plan to build a third runway is not given the green light.

We are bombarded from morning to night by adverts, commercials, letters to the media and banners lauding the benefits the project will bring to Hong Kong.

However, as Peter Lok Kung-nam, former head of the Civil Aviation Department, rightly pointed out (“Sky-high marketing for runway plan kept secret”, July 3), this media campaign by the authority is being carried out at a cost of millions of dollars to the public purse.

It is only recently that the airport has begun to make a return on the public money invested in its construction – cynics might question if this is coincidental with a new call for funds – and now revenue is being frittered away on an over-the-top promotion campaign.

Not only will the community forfeit substantial dividend returns, but there are also ethical considerations that need to be explored.

Is it acceptable that a publicly funded body spends considerable sums to promote its plans without allocating at least a percentage of the budget to publicise at the same time intelligent and legitimate views on the negative aspects of its plans?

Misuse of public funds is a very sensitive issue at the moment, as the government tries to ram through its proposed legislation to block resignations from the geographical constituencies in the Legislative Council. Its justification is the HK$150 million spent on the midterm “referendum” election that took place last year.

There are many in the community who believe that marketing campaigns like that for the airport and the MTR Corporation’s blitz for the express rail link are an even greater waste of public funds. The taxpayer has a right to know how much has been spent on these publicity drives.

At the same time, if there is not already such a mechanism in place, then there is an urgent need to ensure that the views of the “minority shareholders” are accorded the same rights to media promotion as those of the board, to ensure that the revenues of statutory bodies engaged in commercial activities are spent in an equitable manner.

Martin Brinkley, Ma Wan

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