Hong Kong’s diligent civil servants and officials would gain from an archives law

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 January, 2017, 4:38pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 January, 2017, 10:18pm

I refer to the report about the journalist who had trouble getting material on the 1967 riots, because of a lack of official documents (“Filmmaker’s struggle to find footage reveals problems with city’s archives”, January 8).

As a former director of the Government Records Service, I think this highlights the need for the government to introduce legislation protecting archives for future generations.

That historians, journalists and other members of the public seeking to research aspects of Hong Kong’s history are unable to locate or access records created 30 or more years ago among their own government’s archives, and are obliged to seek material in the national archives of the UK, is not because the records of the Hong Kong government were removed to London prior to the handover, as many people assume.

On the contrary, to ensure continuity of effective administration, it was the policy of the British government that the colonial administration’s records remain in place.

The reason researchers have to seek information relating to Hong Kong in British government records is the lack of archives legislation. Such legislation would place a legal obligation upon Hong Kong government agencies and statutory bodies to create, maintain and preserve records that are of continuing value, and to provide a right of public access to them.

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Such legislation does more than just ensure that government archives are kept and made available. Equally importantly, it provides a statutory framework for the creation and continuing management of official records to ensure accountability and transparency in government.

The excellent article by your political editor, Gary Cheung, (“British files reveal HK needs an archives law, now more than ever”, January 10), speaks to this aspect when he says, “Maintenance of public records is vital for institutional memory and is a key component of good governance.”

Civil servants and public officials have nothing to fear from good record-keeping and the preservation of archives, if they carry out their duties and responsibilities to the best of their ability and in an ethical manner.

Indeed, records are their protection, documenting as they do their achievements and hard work in the public interest.

Let us hope that the sustained efforts by the Archives Action Group since 2008 in advocating the enactment of archives legislation, and by others within the community, meet with a positive response from the incoming chief executive and his or her administration.

Don Brech, Causeway Bay