PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 06 March, 2009, 12:00am

Records laws underpin public access

As a former government records service director I endorse your call for a freedom of information law and greater public access to government information ('Freedom of information law the only logical step', February 27).

There are, however, two related issues that should be understood by the public and that deserve the continuing support of the media in Hong Kong.

The first is the requirement for records legislation. Experience of freedom of information laws in other jurisdictions - for example, in the US, Britain and Australia - shows that laws providing access to government information are ineffective unless the creation and management of the records containing that information are given appropriate statutory backing.

Despite the administration's claims to the contrary, legislation is essential to ensure that all aspects of government business, from the evolution of policy to the delivery of public services, are adequately documented by properly-managed records.

The capture of information by record-keeping systems from which information can be later retrieved is the first step in providing access to government information.

Records legislation is also required to ensure that the management, disposal and preservation of those records is undertaken in a manner that is transparent and accountable to the public which should know both what and how records are being kept by the government on its behalf - they are, after all, public records.

The second issue is that of the security classification of records - not always recognised as an aspect of records management.

It is desirable that criteria for the security classification of government information/records and procedures for their subsequent downgrading, disposal and release into the public domain are transparent so that both civil servants and the public know what may be justifiably regarded as a 'state secret' and be withheld from public access.

Given that 'state secrets' will be addressed by any ordinance implementing Article 23 of the Basic Law, it is imperative that legislation relating to freedom of information and the management of government records is enacted before that giving effect to Article 23.

If not, journalists, researchers and others in Hong Kong may find themselves in the same situation as many of those who have sought access to, or have provided or distributed government information on the mainland.

These issues deserve early and active consideration by the highest levels of government and not solely by the ombudsman.

Don Brech, Causeway Bay

Antics damage our reputation

On the disorderly behaviour of the three Legco members inside the Legco chamber during the budget speech by the financial secretary, you reported in Political Animal that 'some pan-democrats have privately said officials, especially Exco convenor Leung Chun-ying, were just trying to score political points rather than showing any real concern for the safety and dignity of officials' ('Was the criticism political point-scoring?' March 3).

My real concern was more than for the safety and dignity of officials. The behaviour of the three Legco members has to be stopped also because their disorderly behaviour set very bad examples during this period of economic stress.

The reputation of Hong Kong is also at stake. No one is above criticism and the three Legco members should be openly condemned.

It would be a very sad day for Hong Kong if no one was prepared to speak up and stand up against their behaviour.

It is disappointing and perhaps telling that the pan-democrats in your report had to hide behind anonymity.

Leung Chun-ying, convenor of non-official members of the Executive Council

Who has hurt democracy?

I do not understand how Frank Ching could think that the League of Social Democrats could possibly give democracy a bad name ('Antics must stop', March 4).

Perhaps Ching should ask 'what democracy?'

With the government's consistent refusal to bring about universal suffrage, it is the Hong Kong administration that is giving democracy a bad name.

What is more, this refusal highlights the fact that Hong Kong's officials are totally out of touch with the ordinary people.

How else can you explain why so many governments around the world have taken drastic action to deal with the effects of the world economic meltdown and all Hong Kong can do is to fiddle at the edges.

Anthony Lee, Corinda, Queensland, Australia

Evidence backs tobacco curbs

Chris Robinson's letter could have been written by the public relations department of the tobacco industry ('Punitive antics just put smokers on the defensive', March 2).

I must take issue with his claim that none of the efforts to curb smoking, including increased taxes, have worked.

In North America, Australia and Europe, cigarette smoking has declined drastically in the last few years which is why the tobacco industry now targets, with multibillion dollar marketing and advertising budgets, the undeveloped world, especially countries such as India, China and nations in Africa.

Perhaps tobacco taxes should increase 10-fold every year. That way the income generated would pay for the billions of dollars it costs the world's taxpayers for the medical bills of all those smokers who suffer illness.

Peter Dann, Sai Kung

Immersion is best teacher

Swee Hiang ('Fluent English', February 28) has made an astute and compelling observation. Many of the 'slum' children in India are rather articulate when it comes to speaking English.

The reason is simple and the Education Bureau needs to take note.

It is because these children are partially immersed in English in whatever educational activities they undertake and use it as a means of communication, not as an end product just to pass an exam.

The parents and educators of these slum children realise the necessity of immersion. These young Indians are prime examples of it.

Immersion is the key. As I learned when I studied educational psychology at university, the language itself matters not. It works just as well with Putonghua as it does with English. Immerse your child and they will become fluent.

Lyle Kleusch, Sheung Wan

HK still attracts

I am not surprised that the population of Hong Kong has finally passed the 7-million mark.

More mainland mothers are now having their babies in Hong Kong.

That is because this is a dynamic city and they consider their prospects to be better here than on the mainland.

It is difficult to know what the future holds and predict population trends. We still do not know what the full effects of the financial crisis will be on Hong Kong. Under the present situation, everyone is having to work harder. Bringing up a child may seem a challenge under such circumstances.

However, despite all these uncertainties, we should keep an optimistic outlook.

Bi Wan, Sha Tin