While Hong Kong's new city mayor CY Leung was being elected and inaugurated, billions of sheets worth of government records were trashed. In fact, if you stacked up all the trashed records, they would be about 40 times the height of the world's tallest building Dubai's Burj Khalifa ( which is 829.8 meters.)
To break it down, according to local newspaper report [zh], if you stacked up all the records trashed from March to June 2012 – the period right after CY Leung was elected but before he formally took office – they would measure 9738.63 meters high. The same report says if you measure the trashed records from the time after his inauguration took place – July 1 till the end of 2012 – they would stack up as high 23,189.31 meters.
The former director of the Government Records Service Simon Chu found these numbers astonishing because it is impossible to review that many records in such a short time.
The Hong Kong government's access to information code and its records management system has been under fire for a while. The Ombudsman Alan Lai Nin, upon receiving many complaints, has even launched an investigation and called for modern standards of open and good administration to be implemented.
Hong Kong In-Media, a NGO that promotes the development of citizen media and information freedom took the opportunity to launch a campaign [zh], demanding immediate legislation to protect government archives and public access to information. The campaign letter said:
Government transparency and Citizen's right to access government information has become a widely recognized standard for international society to encourage citizen participation, fight corruption, create an environment for free press and information flow. […]
Till now Hong Kong does not have a democratic political system. Citizens do not have the right to elect its Chief Executive (city mayor). In addition, the obscure voting system based on the separating counting of “functional constituent representative” and “direct election representative” has resulted in the loss of accountability of the government to the public. The documents on policy deliberations and the minutes of public authorities are the baseline for public monitoring and hence the only way for the government to earn its trust. […]
由於目前的《公開資料守則》不具法律效力，政府部門經常以「沒有相關資料提供」回覆市民及記者的查詢 […] 更荒謬的是，一些官員更公然刪改會議紀錄，（如唐英年曾要求刪改維港巨星匯的會議記錄），公然掩埋真相。一次又一次的政府醜聞告訴我們，香港需要明確的法例，確保妥善保存檔案，保持官方機構的透明度，讓公眾與媒體監察政府運作，使官員能受公眾問責。
Since the information access code is not legally binding, government departments like to use the excuse that they don't have the relevant information to answer citizens and journalists’ inquiry. […] More ridiculously, some government officials have attempted to delete or change the minutes of government meetings. For example former Finance Secretary Henry Tang had demanded the minutes of Harbour Fest be deleted to cover the truth. All these government scandals tell us that Hong Kong needs legislation to protect government records and government transparency so that the media and the general public can monitor the government, making sure that the officials are accountable to the public.
The open letter has received many echoes on its petition page [zh] on change.org.
Filan Chua is frustrated about the massive dumping of government records:
Now 55 times on top of 3 times of iFC Tower2 has been destroyed without proper selection by archivist. No point having access if no records left. These belong to the people for history and good governance.
Stacy Belcher Gould, a professional archivist, shares similar feelings:
am a professional archivist with over 20 years of experience in the field of public history and archives. I care passionately about my profession – However, my real concern is as a Hong Kong resident soon to become a permanent resident. I love our city/state and I want the best for it as our community. I don't want to have a government that is not accountable and transparent for all citizens and residents of our beautiful city/state. I also grieve over our history, which we are losing every time the government destroys records without the review and authorization of professional archivists with statutory authority. In 50 or 100 years when historians, social and political scientists, public health scholars and scientists, geneaologists, and scholars of all sorts come to study Hong Kong in the early decades of the HKSAR, there will be huge gaps of knowledge because those records were either not created and saved, or they were destroyed through ignorance of their long term value. Once they are gone – we cannot get them back.
Lorraine Lui believes the records can cleanse the government:
Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Let the sunlight in!
Hoi Lung Lau adds:
A place without history is always a colony
[Disclosure: Oiwan Lam is a member of Hong Kong In-Media and has also signed the open letter.]