Hong Kong's colonial era records remain intact

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 December, 2013, 4:58am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 December, 2013, 4:58am

I should like to reassure your readers, lest they be speculating on the fate of Hong Kong government records prior to 1997, that there was no mass destruction or secret burning of records in Hong Kong in the run-up to the end of British administration of the colony ("Burning embarrassments of empire", November 30).

It was the policy of both the British and Hong Kong governments that the records of the Hong Kong colonial government and its archives should be passed in their entirety to the future HKSAR government on July 1, 1997, which was carried out under the general oversight of the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group.

A small number of records were selected for copying and the microfilm copies were sent to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London. This was done to provide the FCO with an information resource in support of the UK's continuing obligation to monitor the implementation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration on the question of Hong Kong. The original records remained in Hong Kong.

I can attest to this, as I was appointed to the post of Government Records Co-ordinator in the then Deputy Chief Secretary's Branch of the Government Secretariat in June 1987 with responsibility for management of the microfilming of these records.

That the Public Records Act in the UK did nothing to prevent the destruction of records in British colonies prior to their gaining independence in no way diminishes the value of archives or records legislation.

Indeed, it is the very existence of an archives law that condemns the acts of destruction that occurred.

And before we hasten to condemn the actions of British colonial officials acting under orders from London during the last years of empire, let us remember the recent mass destruction of Hong Kong government records under the administration of the last chief executive, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, prior to the move of the central government offices and the Office of the Chief Secretary to Tamar.

If readers wish to express their outrage at the destruction of records reported in the above-mentioned article and recently in Hong Kong, I urge them to do so in a constructive way: support the campaign to demand that the government enact archives legislation in Hong Kong (yes, that's right; we don't have an archives law) to ensure that further losses of records do not occur here again.

Don Brech, former Government Records Service Director,Causeway Bay