Our government claims to value transparency and accountability. But when it comes to putting these principles into practice, its actions often leave much to be desired. Many departments have failed to live up to disclosure standards set by the code on access to information, which predates the handover. The Ombudsman has rightly lambasted the government for lacking commitment to promote transparency and easy access to information. Alan Lai Nin has singled out departments which displayed a lack of understanding of the code and proper staff training to fulfil their obligations. He has, however, overlooked the root cause of the problem: the code is voluntary and does not have the force of law. Perhaps the most egregious example the Ombudsman cited involved the Chief Executive's Office, where we are entitled to expect staff to do better. The case involved public requests for disclosure of the salaries of the then newly appointed undersecretaries and political assistants. They were refused without an adequate explanation. One reason given was that the information was personal data. This was a permissible reason to withhold information under the code, which permits requests to be refused for a wide variety of reasons. Eventually, the appointees' full salaries were disclosed. Only one of the two decisions could be right, not both. The Ombudsman attributed the action of the Chief Executive's Office to ignorance about the code. It looked more like it wanted to avoid controversy by not disclosing the high pay and perks the new appointees would enjoy. Of other cases the Ombudsman cited, the bodies involved - Hongkong Post, and the housing, lands, home affairs and food and environmental hygiene departments - appeared not to have actively blocked access or denied request for information. Rather, the problem stemmed from staff ignorance and lack of training. Some legal boundaries in disclosure need to be respected; not everything can be disclosed, especially if law enforcement and public security are concerned. But none of the cases cited by the Ombudsman involved sensitive issues that would justify secrecy. In most cases, department staff appeared to have a poor grasp of how the code works, the result of the government having gone out of its way not to promote the code. According to the Ombudsman, only two circulars and a memo were issued to departments between 1997 and 2007 to promote the code. During most of this time there was no training for officers to handle the code, or the hiring of support staff to speed up information requests from the public. A culture of transparency requires both a government that respects the principle and a public that takes it seriously. Yet the Ombudsman finds that there has not been a publicity drive to raise public awareness of the code for 11 years. Whether this is an oversight or the result of a desire not to encourage requests for information, it clearly needs to be rectified. The result is that not only has the public not been well-informed, but government employees do not know much about the code either. The Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau, which enforces the code, has accepted the Ombudsman's recommendations and promised to improve. There is a need for easier access to government information. This would improve governance by promoting both accountability and informed debate on matters of public interest. Steps must be taken to make the code more effective, otherwise a freedom of information law will be required to ensure greater transparency.