2,000 Legco documents may be opened to public view next year
Details of the government's controversial handling of the Sars outbreak in 2003, the debacle over the new airport opening and other scandals may be declassified under the legislature's new access to information policy.
But it may take as long as 50 years from the publication of any Legislative Council investigation reports classified as confidential, according to the closure period.
Unclassified documents, including minutes and expenses claims of the Provisional Legco and colonial Legco - some of them dating back to last century - must be sealed for 20 years.
That means some 2,000 documents in the Legco archives would be opened up for public scrutiny by 2014, when the new policy takes effect from January 1, according to Legco chief archivist Sarah Choy Cheung-ching. The new policy was decided after a two-month public consultation between July and September.
"If there is a public application to view the document before the end of the closure period, we may release the document, as long as it doesn't fall under the nine policy exemptions," said Choy.
He was referring to the nine conditions which exempt Legco from providing the information, including possible legal infringements and potential to inflict harm or prejudice. Choy acknowledged there were difficulties involved in setting up an archive that meets international standards and providing a system of access to information.
After Kenneth Chen Wei-on, secretary general of the Legco Secretariat, has sought a mandate to declassify documents by passing a resolution at a full council meeting, members of the public will be able to submit applications to access archived documents. The secretary general will be required to respond to any request within 21 working days.
Chen said an online list would also be available to the public by August so that applicants can check if documents are available.
The secretariat is applying for additional funding to accommodate the new system, which has already hired two of three certified archivists and set up the archives office.
Archivist Wan Wai-kwok said the physical conditions required for an archives office were strict - including a stable, controlled temperature and humidity level, special lighting requirements and fire precautions.