Archive group bemoans lack of official support for law

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 March, 2011, 12:00am

A group of influential former judges and scholars have laid the legal ground and gathered enough political support for the city's first archive law. But they say government officials are dragging their feet.

The Archives Action Group - a group of archivists, academics and retired judges pushing for an archival law - said it had secured support from pan-democrats, pro-government legislators Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee of the New People's Party, and the Federation of Trade Unions.

Legislative Council president Tsang Yok-sing had also shown positive response, promising to bring the archives protection issue to his party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

Having lined up support from lawmakers across the political spectrum, the group is confident of the law's passage, but says the government is reluctant to help it and has failed to grant its requests to meet Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen.

The issue of the lack of legislation concerning archives arose from repeated incidents of the government not storing records correctly.

In December, when the South China Morning Post requested the records of public funds paid to people as compensation for fung shui disruption caused by the construction of two rail lines in the New Territories, government officials variously said the information had been destroyed, was kept by other departments or was not kept in the first place.

But the group said the storage or discarding of any official records should be bound by an archive law.

'Original records are evidence of all government actions and we need an archive law to require the government to preserve them,' said Simon Chu Fook-keung, a former Government Records Service director.

Chu, who retired in 2007, co-founded the group with others who shared his feelings about the absence of a law, including his predecessor Don Brech.

'The law is urgently needed as the government is moving office this September,' said group member William Waung Sik-ying, a retired judge and an adjunct law professor with the University of Hong Kong. 'Coupled with the proliferation of electronic records, we risk losing or amending information without anyone knowing.'

In the absence of an archive law, the government is keeping its files in an archive at the records service's office in Kwun Tong. The archive is not run by a professional archivist, but an executive officer.

'The government is no longer concerned with the proper management of good archives for good governance,' Waung said.

He said that even with the presence of a Code on Access to Information - an administrative guide put out in 1995 - the increasing reluctance of government agencies to transfer documents to the archive office restricted the public's right to information.

Since 1997, the Chief Executive's Office, the Chief Secretary's Office and the Financial Secretary's Office had not transferred records to the Government Records Service.

A spokesman for the records service said enacting archival legislation was not the only way to improve the management of government records. 'The government will keep the present administrative system of records management under review and improve on the administrative arrangements as necessary,' he said.