GOVERNMENT secrecy and red tape will be reduced if independent legislator Christine Loh Kung-wai's Access to Information Bill becomes law, supporters say. They believe it would create greater government openness and could lead to an even more prosperous and democratic Hong Kong. But critics have dismissed the draft bill, saying it will be too costly to implement and administer. At present, every government plan - from building developments to business ventures - is shrouded in secrecy. Under the proposed bill, information held by the Government and its agencies, including the Legislative Council and district boards, would be made available to the public. Individuals would be able to apply to have incorrect or misleading information on them in government records changed or deleted. The Government would only be able to withhold information for reasons such as public security, law enforcement, or personal and commercial security. Individuals would have to apply in writing for the information. The relevant agency would then have to respond within three weeks, either fulfilling the request or explaining why it was being denied. The bill would also give the public the right to see government plans and voice their objections. An example would be the new Peak Tower project, a multi-million dollar building being built on government land by the Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels group. Although described as a building to represent Hong Kong and its people, the community was kept in the dark as to the design. Only when the first bricks were laid were architectural plans revealed. Ms Loh has been pushing for the Access to Information Bill since her appointment to the Legislative Council in October 1992. ''This was all started by a group of concerned individuals pushing for freedom of information,'' she said. ''Even as a legislator I find it quite difficult trying to get government information.'' A group comprising labour groups, religious sects, environmentalists and arts groups has been set up to support the bill. ''We have a cross section of the community in favour of this bill; now I must concentrate on achieving cross-party support,'' Ms Loh said. ''We want what in the past has been classed as 'top secret' information more widely available. ''There is very little understanding about freedom of information in Hong Kong. We suffer from official secrecy, something that has been brought about by Britain and a colonial administration. ''There is a chance of success; I am optimistic. If the Governor is so committed to open government then surely an Access to Information Bill comes under that policy. ''I would be happy if the bill is accepted and if amendments are made to parts, but I would be disappointed if it was thrown out without suitable consideration.'' Supporters are adamant Hong Kong needs legislation on access to information regardless of the return to Chinese sovereignty. ''I do not see why a bill of this kind would be deleted after 1997; it would make no sense at all,'' Ms Loh said. ''Hong Kong is the 10th largest trade centre and the third largest financial centre in the world. We want to maintain an individual flavour.'' The draft bill was prepared by Dr Nihal Jayawickrama, former attorney-general of Sri Lanka, who is now teaching law at the University of Hong Kong. ''This territory should match its progress in the financial and technical spheres, in the growth of education and the development of representative government by keeping in step with contemporary trends towards more openness and greater accountability,''Dr Jayawickrama said. ''An Access to Information law will eventually increase public awareness of the processes of government, improve the quality of decision making and minimise the potential for both corruption and the abuse of power. In short, access to information is about open government.'' He said: ''Information is power, and no government will lightly agree to share that with ordinary people. An essential feature of Whitehall is secrecy, and that secrecy was carried over to the colonies as well. The Official Secrets Act is the best evidence of this.'' Dr Jayawickrama said it was important to pass the bill as soon as possible. ''With offences such as theft of state secrets applicable even to embargoed speeches, China will not look upon such legislation too kindly,'' he said. ''But if such a law succeeds in opening up the Hong Kong administration during the remaining three years, the Chinese authorities will have to contend with not only international opinion but also a cultural transformation that would have taken place within the territory.'' Ms Loh is hoping for a first reading of the bill as early as May, and it becoming law by 1995. By that time the Government plans - as an economic necessity to tie in with European Union guidelines - to have passed a law on privacy and data protection, and access to information legislation must be in place to act as a balance, say supporters. Because enacting the law would require substantial government resources, the bill could not be presented without the Governor's approval. Ms Loh said she would seek support for the bill over the next two months to demonstrate to Governor Chris Patten that the public truly desired an access to information law. More than 300 copies of the bill have been sent to various community organisations and libraries to be reviewed by the public. A two-month consultation period ends on March 31.