'Disappointing' response on access code investigation

But the content of the submissions received are substantial, says the Ombudsman

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 February, 2013, 5:02am

Fewer than 20 submissions have been received by the Ombudsman a month after he announced an investigation into the proposal to restrict the city's access to information code, the watchdog's office told the South China Morning Post yesterday.

The chairwoman of the Journalists Association, Mak Yin-ting, attributed the poor response to public indifference to the matter, although it plays a vital role in ensuring the public's right of knowledge across a range of issues.

"Fewer than 20 submissions is disappointing," said Mak. "People are more concerned about what they regard as imminent social issues, such as a shortage of milk powder."

But she said access to information had a direct impact on journalists, who need easier access in order to fully explain news events to the community. The issue eventually affects the whole community, she said.

"Our press freedom keeps tightening," Mak said "Compared to many advanced countries, Hong Kong is very much behind regarding access to information."

The Office of the Ombudsman said it did not find the number of submissions disappointing, because those received were substantial documents.

"Many submissions provide us with a lot of relevant information for consideration," the office spokeswoman said. They were sent in by individuals and organisations, she said.

Some may still be in the post, the spokeswoman said. She did not specify the official deadline.

On January 4, Ombudsman Alan Lai Nin announced his office was launching this investigation into the government's access to information code and records management system, after years of calls for legislation to better protect government archives and the public's right to view them.

Lai said it was necessary to determine whether Hongkongers' access to information was adequately provided for.

His office would compare the city's rules with other jurisdictions, including those with legislation on the issue, to see if the measures were in keeping with "modern standards of open and good administration", he said.

Lai noted that the Code on Access to Information had not been amended since its introduction 17 years ago.

Currently, the government can decline to disclose information about defence and security, external affairs, internal discussion and 13 other areas.

Former director of the records service Simon Chu Fook-keung said the city needed an archive law to plug the loopholes in existing government guidelines.