Transparency is an essential component for good public governance. It enables people to keep a close watch on the government, give them a say on public affairs and it holds officials accountable in the event of wrongdoing. The principle, which applies to statutory bodies funded by taxpayers, has served Hong Kong well. Any move that goes against the spirit of openness should be questioned and rejected.
The apparent U-turn taken by the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority over its board meetings is disturbing. Without any prior notice, the authority has apparently stopped giving public access to its board meetings via webcast. No agenda or minutes have been uploaded to the website since April 2010. Even some board members were baffled when told about the change and found it unacceptable.
Shortly after it was established in 2008 to steer the HK$21.6 billion arts hub project, the authority embraced transparency. It was decided the meetings would be open unless discussions involved personnel matters, financial data, commercially sensitive issues or legal matters. The arrangement was hailed by former chairman Henry Tang Ying-yen as a reflection of the authority's principle of operating "in a highly transparent manner and its spirit of being responsible to the public".
A satisfactory explanation has yet to be given for closing the meetings. The open meeting measures, according to the authority's website, lasted for only 12 months. It would be regrettable if the openness was just a gesture to ease pressure for transparency during the initial stage. The discontinuity has sent the wrong signal that the authority has back-pedalled on transparency. It also sits oddly with other arts bodies such as the Arts Development Council, whose meeting agenda and minutes are readily available online.
A culture of secrecy has no place in public governance today. Sustainable efforts are needed if the authority is committed to transparency and accountability. The arrangements should be restored as soon as possible.