Friday, May 13, 2011 Anger at PCCW's HK$100-a-year recreation club


Anger at PCCW's HK$100-a-year recreation club

A row has broken out over why mega-rich telecoms giant PCCW has been allowed to pay just HK$100-a-year in rent for a recreation club - for the exclusive use of its staff - on prime real estate in Causeway Bay for three decades.

Lawmakers are angry over why a private firm can be granted such favourable terms on a prime site.

The PCCW Recreation Club in Caroline Hill Road, boasts a mini-soccer pitch and a two-storey concrete structure containing a gym, restaurant, lounge and a barbecue site.

PCCW said the special leasing arrangement can be traced back to the British colonial era when the city's biggest telecoms company was known as Cable and Wireless.

Land Registry documents dated from 1981 show that the club, opposite the Po Leung Kuk on Caroline Hill Road, has been occupied by PCCW for at least 30 years.

The government had a plan to reclaim the site for redevelopment, but it has not been implemented.

Yesterday afternoon, a banner hoisted next to the outdoor soccer pitch declares that the staff organisation is celebrating its 60th anniversary. If one is closely associated with a PCCW employee, it costs HK$80 a year to book the club's facilities, which include a mahjong room, and table tennis and snooker facilities.

At a Legislative Council home affairs panel meeting yesterday, lawmaker Wong Kwok-hing said the lease was unacceptable. "How can a private company enjoy such a privilege? It is not a [social] group. Nor is it a sports association or a religious association."

The Home Affairs Bureau said yesterday that the site had been leased out under the private recreational leases arrangement, which have been criticised as favouring private clubs and certain elite groups.

A government spokeswoman said the club had a temporary lease that was renewed every three months. Officials said 73 premises were operating under this mechanism, including the Hong Kong Golf Club and Hong Kong Country Club.

As first reported by the South China Morning Post almost a year ago, many of these leases require operators to allow outside groups to use their amenities for recreational activities for a certain number of hours a week.

A staff member at PCCW said renting out facilities to outside groups had been rare, if not non-existent. He said only PCCW employees can join the club.

Legislator Lee Wing-tat said officials should consider an overhaul of private recreational leases as "land should be used by the masses".

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