Chief Secretary Carrie Lam has said that the reason the current administration is destroying more documents than previous governments is because of the accumulation of outdated files.

Lam said that the potential historical value of documents are decided upon when their disposal schedules are compiled. “Before destroying outdated documents with no historical value, bureaus and departments must get the approval of the Government Records Service Director,” she said. “The Public Records Office is then required to once again appraise documents with potential value – only those documents without historical value would be approved by the Director for destruction.”

Lam added that the outdated files included arrival or departure cards of tourists, common tax return files, printed reports of information systems, certificates, registration files, cargo receipts and general forms, among others.

Carrie Lam.

IT sector lawmaker Charles Mok asked Lam at a Legislative Council session on Wednesday about the progress of enacting archives laws in Hong Kong, which are current absent in the city.

Lam said that “the government fully recognises the importance of records management and is committed to identifying and preserving government records with archival value.”

“Although Hong Kong has not implemented an archives law at present, the essential principles of records management adopted internationally have been implemented in Hong Kong through administrative arrangements,” she said.

‘Slow progress’

Lam said the Law Reform Commission set up two sub-committees in 2013 to look into archives law and access to information. They are studying the existing systems and the laws of other jurisdictions, and will conduct a public consultation at a later stage, with a view to making appropriate recommendations on possible options for reform if need be.

But Mok challenged Lam saying that her answer was almost the same as the one she made to former lawmaker Emily Lau Wai-hing two-and-a-half years ago.

“The progress is too slow and the government is continuing its destruction of documents… the current administration, till this April, destroys almost 300 million pages of documents on average every year – almost twice that of the last administration,” Mok said.

Public Records Office. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Lam said that administrative arrangements for archiving documents were “strict” and monitored by the Government Records Service, which is directly under her office.

Lam denied that the work of the Commission was too slow: “The work of the two sub-committees is important and it takes time… They meet once per month and have conducted more than 30 meetings.”

She also said the process to destroy documents was “very careful,” and that it required monitoring and approval from the Government Records Service.

“It is not comprehensive to only use the number of documents destroyed when making a comparison [with past administrations],” she said.

She said many of the documents destroyed were non-tourist visa application forms from the Immigration Department, and personal information relevant to tax matters of the Inland Revenue Department, among others.

Lam also said that three bureaus and departments underwent some improvement measures after a study completed by the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer in September 2015.

A department needed to ensure that electronic records stored in shared drive facilities would be filed in the department’s record-keeping system as soon as possible, while another two departments needed to regularly circulate guidelines for “print-and file” in order to help their staff understand mandatory requirements. They have taken immediate improvement measures after receiving the advice, she said.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.