Files destroyed without approval, former official says

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 December, 2010, 12:00am

Many government records have been destroyed without the approval of the director of the Government Records Service, according to the former holder of the post.

Simon Chu Fook-keung, who is now a member of a pressure group seeking archives legislation, also revealed that the government had not sent any confidential government files to the records office since the 1997 handover for fear of the public viewing them.

The Records Management Manual, which came into effect in 2001, states that any destruction of records has to be endorsed by the director of the service. But Chu said that 'many government records were destroyed without my endorsement'.

'Sometimes when I received requests for my approval for destruction of records, I found some files which may have historical value and requested to examine them. Then the officials would say the files were lost or withdraw their applications. The files could have sensitive information, and they refused to let us examine them,' said Chu, who retired in 2007 and now lectures at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Chu said the government is afraid that once a record goes into the Public Records Building in Kwun Tong for preservation, it will be available for public view. 'If the records reveal many bad things about the government, officials will not want them to stay in our archives,' Chu said. 'The government does not trust us as we always ask for archives legislation and access to information.'

A government spokesman did not reply directly as to whether there have been records destroyed without the service's endorsement, saying only that 'the prior consent of the GRS director must be sought for any destruction of records'.

Chu said the service received mostly low-value operational records from departments such as case files of dole recipients, or administrative files from bureaus.

The most valuable files, he said, were records of government bureaus which contained 'major policies, and policies of how the government handled big incidents, and how the government established policies'.

But Chu said such records were rarely sent to the service for filing.

He said confidential files from policy bureaus - classified as restricted, secret or top secret and stored in the 'confidential registry' at the Central Government Offices - have not been sent to the service for preservation since the handover.

'Before the handover, we had some of these confidential files sent to us. But after 1997, I have not seen one single confidential record transferred to us from the secretariat,' Chu said.