The Ombudsman's office will immediately begin a study of the Hong Kong public’s right and ability to access government information, in response to citizens concerns on the issue over the years, it announced on Friday.
A companion issue was whether the government’s records management system need updating, Ombudsman Alan Lai Nin said.
“In recent years, many jurisdictions have introduced major reforms to their FOI [freedom of information] regimes to increase the public’s access to information, expand the coverage of the FOI stipulations, and update the laws to keep up with the advance of information technology,” Lai said.
The public had called for better access to government information, Lai said. But officials have insisted the city’s Code on Access to Information is good enough.
The new inquiry will look into the standards and practices surrounding that code, which lacks the force of law in setting out what information must be made available to the public.
The code has remained unchanged since its introduction in 1995. More than 88 jurisdictions around the world have passed laws on freedom of information to protect people’s right to access information.
“The office considers it necessary to look into the standards and practices of the code, vis-à-vis the FOI regimes in other jurisdictions, so as to determine whether the public’s right to access information in Hong Kong is adequately provided for,” Lai said.
The review will also look into the government’s records management system. One focus will be the archiving of public records, currently done by the Government Records Service.
The office noted there is no statutory protection for archival records in Hong Kong. But many jurisdictions in the world have introduced, as early as in the 1940s and 1950s, specific laws to protect their archives. Some of this legislation requires the proper creation and management of records, with penalties to enforce compliance.
“We will compare the government’s records management system with those in other jurisdictions, so as to find out whether there are systemic inadequacies in Hong Kong and how these inadequacies affect the public’s access to information,” Lai said.
The office has asked the public to send in comments and suggestions on the issues by February 4, 2013.