Highways Department has announced a refund and future waiver for all patriotic lamppost advertising after a row over a $147,000 bill to a “patriotic group” escalated to Chief Executive John Lee.
Chief Executive John Lee last night said on Facebook he had “instructed the relevant departments” to waive flag-flying fees for patriotic local groups wishing to “express patriotic sentiment” on “special days” after mounting pressure from pro-Beijing media and lawmakers.
“I have directed the relevant department to use exemptions, expand education work on accurate education. I have asked the department to devise effective and appropriate measures to prevent the repeat of the same incident,” he wrote.
Highways Department then announced in a press release it would refund a group which had been billed $147,000 for hanging national flags from lampposts last October and that it was working on “waiver of related fees in hanging national flags at lamp posts in the future”.
The lamppost flag row started with a column from pro-Beijing writer Chris Wat Wing-yin on Tuesday, which said pro-Beijing groups had spent almost $800,000 of their own money to hang national flags from lampposts during the 1 October National Day celebrations last year, and asked why the government was “punishing these hard-working patriots” with inspection fees amounting to $147,000.
Highways Department contractors will inspect advertising lamppost flags daily, at a charge of $6 per flag.
Lawmakers Michael Lee Chun-keung of the Liberal Party and DAB’s Rock Chen Chung-nin on Tuesday then joined the refund campaign, writing a letter to director of Highways, Jimmy Chan Pai-ming, and claiming hanging flags was a “proper way to show love”.
Lee and Chen’s letter to Chan clearly had some impact, with the government climbdown coming just 48 hours later in the post from Chief Executive John Lee.
Lawmaker Michael Lee said he welcomed the Chief Executive’s move and hoped to extend the sentiment to other departments.
“All government departments should more actively promote patriotic education, and encourage non-governmental organizations and citizens to jointly celebrate National Day, the anniversary of the establishment of the Special Administrative Region and other festivals on the premise of respecting the national flag and the regional flag, so as to express patriotic feelings,” he wrote on Facebook in response to Lee’s post.
Election Committee lawmaker Priscilla Leung responded to Lee’s decision positively, claiming “people’s livelihood is no trivial matter,” and thanked the Chief Executive for responding quickly in settling the bill dispute.