Lai See

Why is the government destroying so many documents?

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 January, 2013, 4:56am

We are still astounded at the equanimity with which Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor revealed that in the last six months of last year 23,189 metres of documents had been destroyed: equivalent to the distance between Kowloon and Hong Kong International airport.

This came to light in a written reply to a question by lawmaker Cyd Ho Sau-lan, who had asked for details on government appraisal of documents and if there had been progress on an archives law. Lam said in her reply: "The essential general principles of records management have in fact been implemented in Hong Kong through administrative measures." But for 3.9 million documents to have been appraised in six months, this cannot be true. Given the meagre resources of the records services, there is no way these documents could have been properly examined.

The government's destruction of documents is nothing short of wanton vandalism. It is a scandal, and it is time people in the Legislative Council woke up to it. The government needs to be asked why it is destroying documents at such a rate without proper appraisal.

The irony is that it is happening in a region that has some of the best archives of any civilisation in the world. One can read accounts of visits by Qing dynasty emperors to different parts of the mainland, what they saw, who they spoke to, what they ate and so on - rich and detailed accounts. The keepers of official archives were accorded high official posts. It is most unlikely that we will ever see such accounts, for example, of former chief executive Donald Tsang Kam-yuen's visits, dinners, who he spoke to and what he ate and drank. His official diaries are unlikely to see the light of day. Yet all departments are supposed to aside their policy records for appraisal by the government records service for the purpose of selection and preservation.

In an article in the Hong Kong Lawyer in 2011, William Waung, a retired judge and chairman of the Archives Action Group, wrote: "What is particularly worrying is that is that key government departments and bureaus, where the most important decisions are being made (such as Chief Executive's Office, the Chief Secretary's Office, the Financial Secretary's Office and the Security Bureau) have not made policy records available for selection and preservation since 1997."

Waung says that in recent years the number of records transferred to the public records office for preservation has declined from an annual average of 500,000 items between 2003 and 2007 to 50,000 in 2008. The number of items dropped by 44 per cent between 2008/09 and 2009/10. The Director of the Government Record Service was once a qualified archivist. The position is now filled by an executive grade civil servant.

We need to know why this happening. It seems inconceivable that mainland China with its tradition of record keeping should be acquiescent in this destruction. Why is it that a civil service that was once able to maintain proper records has slipped so badly? It shows a complete contempt for the process of government. Legislative councillors should press the government for some answers and press for the enactment of an archive law to stop the current rate of document destruction.


Cutting the Apple

The knives are out for Apple after its recent results. They may seem unspectacular by its elevated standards in recent years but its real crime is to have missed analysts' expectations. Nomura, for example, says that "weak Q2 dynamics seem to support our view that Apple is moving into an ex-growth phase in which unit growth is likely to come increasingly at the expense of gross margin declines".

It takes the view that in future the company should be valued at little better than "comparable ex-growth peers such as Microsoft and Cisco". This, in Nomura's view, puts Apple at a fair value of US$490 - almost 5 per cent down from its current level of US$514. Talking on CNBC's Fast Money programme, bond investor Jeff Gundlach said if Apple fell to US$483 it could fall to US$424 very quickly. But then, he's been short since April. For added measure, he said: "It could go to US$300."

If that happens, we'll eat our iPad mini, or maybe the iPhone, possibly our Macbook Air, or perhaps the ageing iMac.


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