Millions of records gone in Legco move

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 October, 2011, 12:00am


The government destroyed more than 3.5 million sheets of records in six months while relocating its headquarters to the Tamar site in Admiralty, lawmakers heard yesterday.

The destruction was appalling said a former government archivist after it was revealed a quarter of the destroyed records came from the three top units of government: the Chief Executive's Office, the Chief Secretary for Administration's Office and the Central Policy Unit.

In a written reply to a question by Democratic Party lawmaker Emily Lau Wai-hing, Chief Secretary Stephen Lam Sui-lung said the destruction was sanctioned by the Government Records Service director.

He said between April and September, the director approved the destruction of time-expired records submitted by 14 bureaus and top offices that would be relocated to Tamar. The destroyed records had a total thickness of 1,182 metres.

Lam declined to say how many records were retained.

'Only records appraised by the GRS as having archival value will be transferred for permanent retention,' Lam said. 'We have not established any target on amounts of government records to be retained as archival records.'

Lau asked if officials destroyed records on three controversial issues - the HK$6,000 budget handout, the introduction of legislation to implement Article 23 of the Basic Law in 2002 and political reform.

Lam replied that no record disposal requests had been received concerning these topics.

Simon Chu Fook-keung, a retired GRS director who leads an advocacy group for an archives law, said the destruction was appalling.

'I do not believe they have the capacity to appraise so many records within such a short time,' he said. 'I do not trust the decisions.'

At present, the absence of an archive law leaves it up to bureaus and departments to decide whether or not they transfer documents to the GRS, which is now headed by an executive officer rather than a professional archivist.

Chu explained that a one-metre- thick stack of documents equalled 3,000 sheets of paper, meaning about 3.5 million sheets of records were destroyed.

He pointed to the quantity of destroyed records originating from the Central Policy Unit, which was 26 metres thick: 'From my experience, it seems to me this small unit has destroyed almost all its records,' he said.

A circular in 2009, requiring bureaus and departments to obtain prior agreement from the GRS director before destruction of records, has no legal force.

Chu's group has called for an archives law. It also wants the establishment of a statutory body with power to formulate records policy and headed by a professional archivist.