Lai See

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 November, 2011, 12:00am

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For the record, the government's still lacking accountability

The Legislative Council will today debate a motion calling on the government to immediately enact an archive law and provide channels for the public to access records. The motion is unlikely to pass, as the government opposes it.

The situation is not without irony. The government rarely lifts a finger unless convinced it will get Beijing's approval. Yet our national government keeps records of everything, as Frank Dik?tter, the author of Mao's Great Famine, discovered to both his and our subsequent benefit.

The Hong Kong government's attitude towards proper record-keeping is pitiful. Unlike most other places in the West and in Asia, including Macau, there is no archive law governing the collection and maintenance of government documents.

The government's approach to record-keeping and archives has been well set out in an article in the Hong Kong Lawyer by William Waung, a former judge and a founding member of the Archives Action Group, which was set up three years ago. Among the many shortcomings he points to are that in the past five years, 'government departments and bureaucrats have been reluctant to turn over their records for selection and preservation' by the Public Records Office (PRO).

He further notes that the number of records turned over to the PRO dropped 44 per cent between 2008 to 2009 and 2009 to 2010. Also, important government policymaking agencies, such the Chief Executive's Office and Chief Secretary's Office, have not made records available for selection since 1997. The government's attitude towards archives has been in the spotlight lately following the revelation that, with the government's move to Tamar, 1,181.71 linear metres of records from policymaking bodies were destroyed. Donald Breech, the first director of the Government Record Services and a professional archivists, unlike the present incumbent, who is an administrative officer, has voiced serious misgivings over this exercise and the government's practice with regard to record-keeping in general. He says that the level of destruction of documents from, in particular, the Chief Executive's Office 'must be seen as excessive for an agency with central policy and executive functions'. So we have yet another example of the government pretending it is doing one thing while in reality it is doing another.

Why is it so reluctant to maintain records of its policymaking activities? The Archives Action Group is holding a forum on November 24: Saving Hong Kong's Public Records. The government was invited to send a representative but, unsurprisingly, it declined. As we know, the government's rule of thumb is that it can ignore anything that is not going to cause protests.

Wealth of misinformation

Good to see that the asset managers of our national government are not letting themselves get pushed around by the West. Gao Xiqing, general manager with the China Investment Corporation, China's sovereign wealth fund, told a Chinese overseas investment summit in Hong Kong yesterday: 'When Western countries need money, their attitude towards us is nice, but when their economic conditions improve, their attitude changes.' But perhaps mindful that it doesn't hurt to be magnanimous, he observed: 'We can't have this attitude that we are powerful, you must kowtow to us, and I can do what I want. Chinese people are courteous by nature. We must respect others and not be proud.' Reflecting on the weakness of Western economies, Gao recounted: 'When I recently met my Western counterparts, I frankly told them our democratic system may be more effective than their democracies.' Here we must take issue. Our national government is a wonderful thing, but democratic it is not.

Just listen to yourself, Angela

Angela Merkel's speeches in defence of the euro and Europe are becoming increasingly shrill. But they are not doing much to convince observers. She recently told whoever was still listening, 'It is time for a breakthrough to a new Europe.' John Waddle, head of regional banking research for Mirae Asset Management, commented: 'This is like the captain of the Titanic saying after hitting the iceberg, 'okay everyone, let's go for a swim'.'

That's the spirit, Asia

Further evidence that Asia is poised to out-consume the rest of the world: International Wine & Spirit Research figures suggest that, within five or six years, Asia-Pacific will overtake America and Europe to become the biggest consumer of alcohol. Two-thirds of that growth will come from China and much of the rest from India.