• Sat
  • Dec 27, 2014
  • Updated: 10:32am
CommentInsight & Opinion

Hong Kong must stop dodging issue of an archives law

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 March, 2014, 5:12am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 March, 2014, 5:16am

Public access to well-preserved government records is fundamental in a free and open society. It enhances transparency and accountability, and ensures the way decisions and policies come about are faithfully recorded in history. It is the hallmark of responsible governance.

Sadly, the Hong Kong government has yet to fully embrace this principle. Despite the implementation of some administrative guidelines, government files are neither properly archived nor fully open to the public. The resistance to mandating compliance through legislation means irregularities can go on unchecked.

A full investigation initiated by outgoing ombudsman Alan Lai Nin has put the scale of the problems into perspective. For instance, seven departments have not taken any action for years, despite rules requiring the appraisal and disposal of records at least once every two years. During the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003, the Hospital Authority held informal meetings without minutes. Access to information also leaves a lot to be desired. Only dozens of the 400-odd public bodies have voluntarily subscribed to a code to open up files upon request. Those in charge might actually have a different understanding of the spirit and letter of the code.

That it has taken a parting shot by the ombudsman to renew the momentum for legislation is regrettable. Lai is not alone in feeling embarrassed that the city is lagging way behind the US, Britain, Australia and mainland China, where laws are in place to protect citizens' right to information. There is an unequivocal case for Hong Kong to follow. Yet officials continue to dodge the pressure with a study by the Law Reform Commission, which will not be ready until 2016.

Records today are history tomorrow. Only through proper archives and open access can government be effectively monitored and history truthfully preserved. Legislation should be expeditiously followed up in line with Hong Kong's reputation as a free and open world city.


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This article is now closed to comments

Keeping records are part of the job for being government which its officials all must do. Public pay to have records kept. Failing to do so can lead the public to the following possible guesses:
1. Officials being lazy that meeting and work records not recorded. There are just no records. .
2. Officials being self-protective from public inspection that would result in some harm to their pension. Records are destroyed.
3. Officials being delinquent that failing in record keeping is deliberate to avoid self-incriminating for job infraction. There are no records or being destroyed.
They are all offenses to public’s interests. The last conjecture if true it is the most damaging kind to the society’s well-being that the society suffers from corruption and collusion by officials. There are no more bases for the public to trust our officials to be working in the interests for all the citizens equally.
Show the records upon request otherwise.
Agree, this issue must be resolved!


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