Think-tank's call for law on public access to archives rejected
A call by a think-tank for an archival law to cover record-keeping and public access to information was swiftly rejected yesterday by the government.
Civic Exchange said Hong Kong was lagging other places in not having such a law, which could ensure that the rules governing access to information were not undermined by officialdom. But a government spokeswoman said the present administrative arrangements were working well and a law was not high on the government's agenda.
Civic Exchange's call came as it published a research report funded by the Hong Kong Archives Society. Chief executive Christine Loh Kung-wai said: 'Hong Kong is one of the rare exceptions that lacks an archives law to regulate records in the public sector.'
The think-tank suggested the government set out the principles on record-keeping practices and set up a statutory archival authority.
It said the definition of public records must include all formats and the archives of statutory bodies. The law should demand mandatory compliance by all public agencies and confer on the public a right to access the records, it added.
At present, archives are kept by the Government Record Service under the Public Records (Access) Rules 1996. Access to records kept by any government bureau or department is provided through the Code on Access to Information.
Civic Exchange argued the existing arrangements could be easily undermined by higher authorities and overruled by records-related provisions in existing laws.
The Constitutional Affairs Bureau, which handles media inquiries for the Administrative Wing under which the Public Records Office operates, was unable to give an immediate answer on the most recent records available through the office.
But a spokeswoman said: 'The present administrative arrangement is functioning well and we are trying our best to improve it.'
She said archival legislation was not a priority for the government.
Ray Yep Kin-man, an assistant professor teaching public and social administration at City University, said Hong Kong lacked proper management and protection for archives. Dr Yep, who is researching the 1967 riots, has to visit London for archives because the Public Records Office does not have any of the documents he needs.
'The records in London are comprehensive. They have what I need; they also have a very good electronic library system. I can see the title of the files through the internet and reserve the files from Hong Kong. The documents will be waiting for me when I arrive in London,' he said.
Legislation in other jurisdictions
1987 - Archives Law of People's Republic of China governs how to manage, collect and arrange archives and promote their use.
1968 - National Archives and Record Centre Act establishes the centre.
1899 - Establishes Public Archives Commission
1966 - Freedom of Information Act provides for public access to government records and public organisations' public solicitation of information, and for related purposes.
2002 - E-Government Act enhances management and promotion of electronic government services and processes.
1958 - Public Records Act provides accommodation for public records and facilitates their free use.
2000 - Freedom of Information Act allows any organisation or person to request information held by a public authority.