IT sector lawmaker Charles Mok has said that civil groups will look into drafting a freedom of information law after criticising the government for making slow progress over the past two decades.

Mok said the Chief Executive signed a Hong Kong Journalists Association charter during her election campaign promising to enact the law.

More than 100 countries and territories have enacted such rules, including China. The Law Reform Commission formed two subcommittees in 2013 to look into whether to legislate an archives law and access to information law, but they have yet to publish any reports.

freedom of information law Charles Mok
Charles Mok (centre). Photo: Charles Mok office.

An official Code on Access to Information has been in place in Hong Kong since 1995. The public can cite it when asking for information, but the Code does not have any legal effect, nor does it apply to all public organisations. In July, the Ombudsman said there were 85 complaints relating to access to information in the year 2016/17 – a new high.

Mok said government departments often misunderstand the process when rejecting information requests, mistakenly thinking that the files requested are internal documents or require third-party approval before release.

He will raise a verbal question at the Legislative Council meeting on Wednesday enquiring about the progress of the freedom of information law.

The Archives Action Group, led by former director of the Government Records Service Simon Chu, along with the Progressive Lawyers Group, and lawmakers including Mok will look into drafting a bill.

“Only the government will oppose this bill,” Mok said. “To be honest, if the government supports it, the pro-establishment camp will not oppose it.”

Fu King-wa
Fu King-wa. Photo: Charles Mok office.

Fu King-wa, an associate professor at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre of the University of Hong Kong, said the Ombudsman has twice asked the government to amend the Code.

“It’s difficult to find another case whereby the government refused to amend the law after the Ombudsman raised the issue twice,” he said.

Fu said he spent 14 months obtaining figures of injuries that occurred on the MTR system.

“These are not sensitive numbers… if the numbers are made public, we can do more to improve society,” he said, adding that open data can also create business opportunities.

Consultation on archives law

The government has said in documents submitted to the Legislative Council that bureaus and departments had approval to destroy 89,000, 61,000 and 56,000 metres of documents in 2014, 2015 and 2016 respectively.

Kitty Choi, director of the Administration Wing under the chief secretary, said on Monday at the Legislative Council that many of the destroyed documents were unnecessary to keep. For instance, 60 per cent of those of the Immigration Department were arrival or departure cards of tourists.

She also said the Law Reform Commission plans publish a set of consultation papers earlier next year asking for opinions over whether to legislate the archives law.

Simon Chu
Simon Chu. Photo: Charles Mok office.

Simon Chu said he was not satisfied with the progress: “I must condemn the Law Reform Commission’s subcommittee. Are you kidding me? They are still studying after four years,” said Chu.

“Our group only has several people, but we have done all the research needed – comparing [Hong Kong] with many jurisdictions in the world, we have even written the bill. But now four years have passed, and it is still conducting a consultation?”

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.