Lai See

Destruction of archives is one more dirty government secret

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 November, 2013, 3:04am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 November, 2013, 3:04am

The Archives Action Group, which is seeking to redress Hong Kong's hopelessly inadequate arrangements for safeguarding public records, has taken its case to the Ombudsman. In its submission, it notes that many countries have laws governing the management of their records. Hong Kong gets by with a system of administrative guidance. But over the years, this system has demonstrated "inherent system weakness" in three broad areas covering mandate and governance, structure and operations, and standards and professionalism.

The group says that under the present arrangements, "the Government Records Office lacks an effective mandate in that it can neither ensure that government bureaus and departments create, maintain and dispose of records properly, nor does it have the power to audit and rectify poor recordkeeping practice". It goes on to say that the lack of adequate and reliable government records has led to numerous incidents of loss and damage as well as impeding investigations into negligence, misfeasance and corruption of public officers. "For example, an Audit Review in 2004 revealed that in the Discovery Bay development project an estimated $160 million for making changes in land use should have been paid by the developer to the government but no records were found to allow a meaningful investigation."

The group says that "the tragic Lamma ferry crash in 2012, which killed 39 people, also illustrated the haphazard management of records in the Marine Department". It adds that over the years the office has been "de-professionalised" in that few people are sufficiently qualified to carry out the task. As a result, it is incapable of implementing a comprehensive, efficient and effective programme for managing government archives and records in a professionally competent, credible and sustainable manner.

Lai See would add that Hong Kong's standards of public record keeping are scandalous for a jurisdiction that prides itself on its standards of governance. Public records provide a check on officials, and are a record of how the government conducted itself both for the public and historians. We know that records are being destroyed at a massive rate. The suspicion is that the government doesn't want people to know how and under what circumstances it is making decisions. It is just one more of our government's dirty secrets. It is time this changed, but we are not holding our breath.


Horses for courses

There's an unusual announcement on the stock exchange website headed "Connected transaction in relation to disposal of a horse". Essentially, Sun International Resources is selling a 30 per cent stake in a horse to its chairman for HK$4.6 million and 10 per cent to another director for HK$1.5 million. The horse in question is a four-year-old thoroughbred mare that was bought by the company for HK$12.7 million in October, and a month later 40 per cent was sold to investors for HK$6.2 million. The company is retaining 20 per cent. This is in line with the company's stated intention of "looking to further explore the development of equine trade in order to enhance shareholders' value".

The firm's other interests include online games, natural resource development and leisure resorts. Equine trading isn't broken out separately in the accounts, though probably comes under "others", which lost HK$13.3 million in the year to March 2013. Indeed, all segments of the firm's operations were loss-making, resulting in an annual loss of HK$535 million. Interestingly, despite its already mixed bag of assets, Sun International says it "is always seeking opportunities to diversify the group's revenue streams".


Awareness raising

We've received an account of how Bank of New York Mellon employees, in partnership with Canstruction, recently built a giant bowl of rice and chopsticks out of canned food at the firm's Hong Kong office. The idea of the sculpture is to raise awareness of issues related to food waste and hunger. The sculpture comprises 2,102 cans of non-perishable food and 500 packs of noodles, which, once the display has been deconstructed, will be donated to Hong Kong-based charity Food Angel. Without wishing to be unkind, the impression from the photograph is that at least one aim is to draw attention to BNY Mellon.


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