(25 May 2017) Legislative Councillors Charles Mok, Tanya Chan and Dennis Kwok are accompanied by the Archives Action Group and civil groups to meet with the press today (25 May) to introduce the Draft Public Records Bill that will be tabled as Members’ Bill in Legco. They also urge the new government to implement archives law to protect the right to know of the citizens.
Vice Chair of the Archives Action Group and former Government Records Service Director Mr Simon Chu points out that Hong Kong is the few in the world without archives law. Mr CY Leung has pledged in 2012 during his campaign that he will implement archives law but the Law Reform Commission has seen no progress after it has undertaken a study in 2013. Mr Chu says Hong Kong can not wait any longer.
Hon Charles Mok admits that it will be challenging for the Members’ Bill to be approved but he hopes by tabling the Bill, it will make the public aware of the importance to protect archives and also to reiterate a message to the CE-elect Mrs Carrie Lam to take action. “Without archives, freedom to information is nothing but empty talk,” Mr Mok says.
The Bill aims to establish the Public Archives and Records Authority, the Archives and Records Council and create the position of the Government Archivist. It also seeks to stipulate the duties of different government bureaux and departments in ensuring the integrity and reliability of public records and archives.
Mr Chu presents on the four main areas of the Bill, namely the “Creation of Public Records”, “Recordkeeping and Records Management”, “Appraisal, Disposal and Transfer of Public Records” and “Rights for Public Access”. He says the government currently relies on the Mandatory Records Management Requirements created in 2009. Those requirements, he says, are merely internal government guidelines and are not legally binding. Abundant evidence suggests those requirements are ineffective and he calls for the new government to take immediate action.
Charles Mok says their Bill has made reference to laws in New Zealand and other countries, and has specifically incorporated details to cover electronic records management. He says any public bodies that are funded with more than 50% of public money will be subject to the Bill and must maintain the records properly. Chairman of the Archives Action Group Mr William Waung says the Bill includes sanctions on any transfer and disposal of public and archival records without authorisation and he believes this will serve as a deterrent effect.
Regarding the progress of the Bill, Hon Dennis Kwok says the three members have written to the Legco Panel on Constitutional Affairs in late April to request a discussion on their Bill. The government has subsequently issued an interim reply on the Bill, saying it will have substantive effect to the public expenditure, government policies as well as operation of the government. The government also replied that it will closely monitor the report and recommendations issued by the Law Reform Commission in the future. The Bill is currently processed by the Department of Justice.
Hon Tanya Chan says without proper laws to protect records created during the policy-making of the government, it can get away by disposing important records or even not creating records. She illustrates her concerns with the Palace Museum incident in the West Kowloon Cultural District, saying relevant documents including the consultant report, are kept in the dark, making it hard to determine whether former Chief Secretary Carrie Lam has violated procedures and certain public bodies should be held accountable.
Legislative Councillor Hon Chu Hoi-dick also joins with Ms Lam On-ki from the Wang Chau Green Belt Concern Group to speak to the press. During the Wang Chau housing saga, Chu Hoi-dick says he has encountered immense difficulty in holding the government accountable when records of informal lobbying are missing. Ms Lam, on the other hand, says she can only find fractured records regarding how the initial plan of the government to build 4000 public housing units was changed dramatically.
Legislative Councillor Hon Edward Yiu talks about the incident in 2001 when the building and structural plans of some residential units in Fairview Park in Yuen Long were lost by the Building Department. Edward Yiu believes by implementing the archives law, similar incidents can be avoided.
Ms Katty Law from the Central and Western Concern Group points out that in their fight to preserve historical buildings, it is hard to track how the property groups have influenced government land planning without proper records in place. She also concerns that the Town Planning Board has recently stopped publishing the public submissions gathered from their consultations and she worries relevant records might be lost from their archives.
Mr Cheung Chiu-tun from the Sai Wan Concern Group also criticises the Town Planning Board for keeping the operation in the dark and speculates that the Board has not kept records of town planning from 20 years ago. Mr Cheung says the old Wing Woo Grocery building in Central is successfully preserved owing to the presence of archival records. He says archive law is vital to ensure transparency and accountability of public bodies.
As working group of the Law Reform Commission is expected to publish its report and recommendations later this year, Charles Mok states the bid to push the Members’ Bill at this moment is to list out the vital elements and establish a benchmark for public discussion.