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Administration of the Code on Access to Information
2014-06-04

Following is a question by the Hon Charles Peter Mok and a written reply by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Raymond Tam, in the Legislative Council today (June 4):

Question:

In its direct investigation report on the regime for access to information (ATI) in Hong Kong released in March this year, the Office of The Ombudsman has identified a number of inadequacies of the regime, and recommended that the Government should consider introducing a law to underpin the citizens’ right of ATI, and setting up an independent body with law enforcement powers to monitor the work relating to ATI. In addition, the report has also recommended that the authorities should, before the enactment of such a law, take nine improvement measures, some of which involve the administration of the Code on Access to Information (the Code). In response to the report, the Government has pointed out that the Law Reform Commission (LRC) has started a comprehensive comparative study on the relevant laws in overseas jurisdictions, with a view to considering whether measures to improve the ATI regime should be implemented in Hong Kong and, if so, how these measures should be implemented. The Government has also indicated that it will study any recommendation LRC may have on this and then consider the way forward. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the specific timetable for studying the implementation of the recommendations made in the aforesaid report, and when it will report to the Panel on Constitutional Affairs of this Council on the progress of such work; whether it will consult the stakeholders (including universities and the media) on the relevant matters; if it will not, of the reasons for that;

(2) whether it will implement the aforesaid nine improvement measures before LRC completes the aforesaid comparative study; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(3) among the requests for information made in writing received by various policy bureaux/government departments (B/Ds) in the past three years, of the respective numbers of those requests made without citing the contents of the Code and those made without using the application form contained in the Code; and

(4) whether it has plans to increase the transparency of the ATI regime, such as improving the web site contents of the Code, and regularly publishing in digital format the data on the requests for information received by various B/Ds; if it has such plans, of the details?

Reply:

President,

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government (HKSARG) has all along endeavoured to provide necessary information to the public. In fact, since the Code on Access to Information (the Code) came into effect in March 1995, up to the end of 2013, over 97% of the requests for information were met in full (95.5%) or in part (2.1%); and less than 3% of requests were refused for reasons as set out in Part 2 of the Code. The Ombudsman conducted a comprehensive direct investigation in 2009-2010 on the effectiveness of Government’s administration of the Code and put forward 11 recommendations [Note], all of which have already been implemented.

Our reply to the different parts of the question is as follows:

(1), (2) and (4) Further to the direct investigation conducted in 2009-2010, The Ombudsman released another direct investigation report on the access to information regime in Hong Kong in March this year. Regarding the recommendation on enacting legislation, since the Law Reform Commission (LRC) is now conducting a detailed study on the topic of “access to information”, the HKSARG will await completion of the study and carefully consider any recommendations which LRC may put forward, before deciding on the way forward. As for the other recommendations of The Ombudsman, including increasing the transparency of the access to information regime and improving the content of the Code’s webpage, etc., we will consult stakeholders as necessary and then follow up as appropriate. We plan to report to the Panel on Constitutional Affairs around the end of the year.

(3) We have all along been collecting and releasing the number of requests for information made under the Code. Requests not made under the Code cover a wide scope including requests and enquiries from different media organisations, bodies and individual citizens to different bureaux and departments. Moreover, such requests are numerous and could also be sent to government departments concerned by mail, email or through telephone hotline or other channels. At present, the government does not classify the cases by their form of enquiry or record the number of such cases.

[Note] The 11 recommendations are (1) to organise more and timely training for Access to Information Officers; (2) to work with departments to organise more training for other staff; (3) to arrange regular publicity on the Code; (4) to add a Chinese version of the Guidelines to the webpage on the Code; (5) to require all departments’ homepages to introduce the Code briefly and to be hyperlinked to the webpage on the Code; (6) to prepare a dossier on the findings of The Ombudsman’s inquiries and investigations for reference in staff training; (7) to update and re-circulate regularly relevant circulars; (8) to update the list of frequently asked questions and precedent cases; (9) to provide advice to departments to ensure that departmental guidelines are clear, correct and up-to-date; (10) to keep the format of the quarterly return under regular review; and (11) to follow up with other public bodies within The Ombudsman’s purview for them to adopt the Code or some similar guide.
Ends/Wednesday, June 4, 2014
Issued at HKT 12:27

Office Of Hon. Charles Mok, Legislative Councillor (IT)