The Ombudsman today suggested that the HKSAR Government formulate legislations on freedom of information law and archives. It was also proposed that such legislations apply not only to the whole government but to the entire public sector as well to ensure the legislations really serve the purpose of protecting the public’s right to know. This is a fundamental right recognised in most parts of the world and is enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
HKJA welcomes the Ombudsman’s proposal and urges Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to keep his election promise to legislate this Freedom of Information and Archives Laws by responding promptly to the Ombudsman’s suggestions.
HKJA agrees fully with the key points raised by the Ombudsman, the freedom of information and the regulation of archival materials must be in keeping with international standards. We have pointed out many times that the existing Code on Access to Information is inadequate. Currently, the issue of TV licensing has aroused great public concern, given that relevant documents relating to this matter, like the Consultant Report on TV Licensing, TV data transmission format and other related documents prepared by the Office of the Communications Authority are not in the public domain, although those seeking licences are expected to be knowledgeable about the relevant rules and requirements.
Other issues that touch on the very vital issues of personal health and safety, like the level of melamine in infant milk powder as well as financial matters like conpensation expenditures on Feng Shui in relation to the construction of the railways, etc, impinge upon the public interests. Hong Kong people simply have a right to know about all these issues that affect their lives and the well-being of Hong Kong. Hong Kong people have the right to know all about such matters as their very lives may depend upon access to such information. Until now, however, even the media have had immense difficulty accessing them.
The United Nations Commission on Human Rights adopted the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 2011. This document states unequivocally that countries should protect the free flow of information and the general public must be able to access such information easily. The UNHCR called on all member states to legislate the Freedom of Information Law. Until now ninety countries have legislated this freedom of information law. Hong Kong, acknowledged worldwide as an international city, is trailing far behind entities that are far less developed politically and economically. This is an unacceptable situation.
To legislate for the Freedom of Information Law and an Archives Law, the government must adopt the internationally accepted principles of a free flow of information along with an appeals mechanism. Exemptions, if any, should also follow principles acceptable worldwide.
HKJA strongly urges that archives legislations should ensure proper protection of data and files, secure storage and protection against loss or disposal without proper clearance.
20 March 2014