Universal suffrage in Hong Kong

Archives law would put an end to government secrecy, says former judge

Public officials would behave differently if their actions and words were eventually made public via an archive, says former High Court judge

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 March, 2014, 7:57pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 April, 2014, 3:43am

People may never know the debates and discussions the government is having over how to implement universal suffrage, which underlines the need to enact a “long overdue” archives law, a retired High Court judge says.

William Waung Sik-ying,  leader of the Archives Action Group,  said officials would “behave differently” if they knew their words and actions would eventually be revealed to the public.

Waung called on Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to take a public position on the Ombudsman’s recommendation that Hong Kong needs a law to mandate the creation of a public-sector archiving system. The government has “irresponsibly” shifted the decision-making burden to the Law Reform Commission,  he said, which is still at least 18 months away from putting forward a proposal on the subject.

Meanwhile the government can act “lawlessly”, Waung’s group says, pointing to the fact that if all of the government documents destroyed during the relocation of the government headquarters were stacked, the pile would be almost three times the height of Two IFC. 

“One man, one vote; Occupy Central; the way to elect or nominate [chief executive candidates] – all these are difficult questions,” Waung said. “The government must be having in-depth studies and discussion to make decisions [on these topic].” The archive would become the historical foundation of the city’s future, he said. “Without it, how would we know what we did wrong, and ... what we should have done.”

Waung said if officials faced an archive law when they came up with policies, they might “handle [that task] differently”.

“This is not just about recording our cultural heritage; this would be a record to help shape our political future and the society we want to have,” he said.

Waung said officials were procrastinating at a vitally important time for the city. “The longer they procrastinate, the better it is for them,” he said, adding the government could be unwilling to make public the reasons behind their policies.

Last month, the Ombudsman found that Hong Kong needs laws to strengthen access to government information and mandate a modern archiving system.

This would address “embarrassing” problems that have seen the city fall behind many developed countries in efforts to increase government transparency, ombudsman Alan Lai Nin  said.

The former director of the Government Records Service (GRS), Simon Chu Fook-keung,  who is also a member of the action group, said the Ombudsman’s report was positive but failed to address the root problem – “the lack of professional leadership and capacity at the GRS”.