THE Housing Authority plunged into a fresh storm of controversy last night when it attempted to defend itself over a widely criticised ruling on the secrecy of members' attendance records. While authority secretary Lee Kai-fat insisted there was no need to consult members before releasing records, his staff were mailing letters asking each member for permission to do so. A resolution on the matter, passed in the quarterly meeting in March, emerged when the authority secretariat and its information and community relations division were resisting South China Morning Post questions. Staff initially said records were not made public and, after four weeks' repeated inquiries, said in a written reply that information was being processed and they were 'seeking members' views on releasing the information'. Senior Assistant Committee Secretary Fiona Lam said on Friday that members' consent was needed. The resolution said members' attendance 'may be released on request but we will undertake to consult individual members whether they are willing to make public their own attendance records'. The disclosure triggered condemnation from housing watchdogs over members' accountability. But the authority's secretary announced yesterday that the clause did not apply. It had been vetoed in the minutes endorsed in June, which were final. The minutes say: 'Members agreed to the proposal of compiling a register on individual members' attendance records annually and releasing such information on request.' Yet senior secretariat staff appeared unaware of the policy reversal. The authority last night refused to discuss why the secretariat staff and information officers were not aware of the changes. Housing groups were shocked by the remarks of Mr Lee, who is also Deputy Director of Housing (Administration and Policy). They asked why the policy was known only to Mr Lee, and not to his senior staff or information officers. Mr Lee, who headed the information and community relations division, had been under pressure after the division's repeated failure to respond to public inquiries. He said last night there was no condition that members had to be consulted before their attendance records were released. But he said his staff were preparing to send letters to members to consult them. Mr Lee, just returned from a three-week holiday, said he only discovered the bureaucratic wrangle from the Post yesterday. He said the consultation clause was left out of the minutes of the March meeting because no member had specifically asked for it during the discussion. Hong Kong People's Council on Public Housing Policy chief executive Virginia Ip Chiu-ping said: 'If what Mr Lee says is true, it is a very dangerous precedent - when a senior official is on holiday, no one knows what the authority policy is and no one knows what to do. 'It proves that the authority's management is in a mess.'