Hong Kong Ombudsman Calls for FOI Legislation

21 March 2014

Hong Kong Ombudsman Alan Lai Nin has called on the authorities to introduce freedom of information legislation, but others said action in not likely.

His report after a year of study includes 12 recommendations.

A summary states:

We find that under the purely administrative ATI regime in Hong Kong, key components of the FOI laws in those jurisdictions are missing or are not adequately manifested, i.e. lack of coverage of hundreds of public organisations; lack of monitoring of information requests not citing the Code; lack of an adjudicating body having the power to make binding decisions; lack of penalty for non-compliance with the provisions of the Code; insufficient analysis of request statistics; inadequate understanding of the exemption provisions of the Code by bureaux and departments (“B/Ds”); insufficient proactive disclosure and regular reporting; and a need for strengthening public education and promotion

The current “code on access to information” is ambiguous and open to interpretation, he said, according to an article in The Standard. “He said this made it difficult for the public to obtain the information, which went against the government’s original intention of improving transparency,” the report said.

In January of 2013 the ombudsman announced the commencement of a study of access to information and records management in Hong Kong. (See previous FreedomInfo.org report.)

Law Commission Process Slow

A subcommittee of the Law Reform Commission is looking at FOI legislation, according to another article, in the South Morning Post, but may not be ready to report until 2016.

The FOI discussion comes against a backdrop of attacks on journalist and repression of the media in Hong Kong. (See New York Times report.)

Law Reform Commission secretary Stephen Wong Kai-yi told the South China Morning Post that the ombudsman’s call yesterday for legislation would create “little pressure” on the commission’s ongoing work.

The commission subcommittee is chaired by Russell Coleman. “Wong said their report was expected before 2016,” the Post reported. Another subcommittee is looking at the need for an archives law.

Former Government Records Service director Simon Chu Fook-keung was quoted in the Post as saying the commission’s progress was too slow. “The laws are simple; they are nothing controversial.”

Chu also was not optimistic about the prospects for legislation, saying, “The government is afraid of these two laws as they will deal it a big blow,” he said. “Its [problems] will be fully revealed.”

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