New Documents Reveal Secret Costs of Hong Kong Palace Museum

The museum plan was met with resistance amid political tensions.

The Palace Museum in Hong Kong, a planned branch of Beijing’s “Forbidden City,” has been controversial since its announcement in late December 2016, with critics of the project claiming the museum is being forced on the semi-autonomous city by the Chinese government. Now, new revelations deepen doubt of the privately funded project’s transparency.

Internal documents acquired by the FactWire News Agency in Hong Kong reveal details of a geotechnical study costing HK$3 million (about $387,000), that was kept secret from the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority (WKCDA) until months after the project contract was awarded.

The museum’s architect, Rocco Yim Sen-kee, also apparently ordered, 20 days before he was officially appointed, a feasibility study to be undertaken by engineering consultants Arup, the South China Morning Post reports.

Palace Museum plans have sparked citywide protests in Hong Kong in the past month, with the museum eventually giving in to a public consultation period.

But even this has been criticized, the BBC reported on January 11, as it is “expected to focus on how the museum should be run and what it might display, rather than on whether it should exist at all.”

Last week, the South China Morning Post reported FactWire’s release of a detailed layout plan for the museum, which seemed to imply a finalized design, leaving little room for any changes that might be called for after a public consultation.

Protesters demonstrating against the Hong Kong Palace Museum. Photo courtesy ISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP/Getty Images.

Protesters in Hong Kong demonstrating against the Hong Kong Palace Museum, in front of an advertisement for the museum. Photo courtesy ISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP/Getty Images.

On January 7, FactWire revealed that Yim had begun designing the museum four months before the proposal was approved, that it has been listed as “classified,” and that the architectural team did not know for a year and a half that the project they had been working on was, in fact, the Palace Museum.

Also according to FactWire, the WKCDA hid expenses for the investigative ground work in other documents. A “construction industry professional” told the non-profit news source on January 23 that such government projects should be transparent, and that using funds from one project to fund another, or skipping administrative procedures, is “strictly speaking, not correct practice.”

Members of the WKCDA board, however, maintain that the layout plan is just a draft. The authority also says that ground investigation work, commissioned by Rocco Design Architects, does not indicate that the architect’s appointment was hidden. Instead, it said that the company was hired for consulting services in advance of its official commission. And the payment, it explains, came from a separate development budget.

Nonetheless, tensions between the authority and the public do not seem likely to be subsiding anytime soon.

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