Jump to the beginning of content

border image

Press Releases

border image
LCQ1: Policy on public access to government information

     Following is a question by the Dr Hon Kenneth Chan and a reply by the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Mr Raymond Tam, in the Legislative Council today (January 23):


     At present, anyone may inspect the full identification numbers and usual residential addresses of shareholders, directors or company secretaries etc. of companies at the Companies Registry. Under the new Companies Ordinance passed last year, disclosure of such information will be restricted, and the Government is currently drafting the subsidiary legislation for implementing such regulation. On the other hand, The Ombudsman announced this month that he would initiate a direct investigation into the access to information regime and the Government's records management system. Regarding the policy on public access to government information, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) given that some members of the public and the media have expressed that the aforesaid new regulation on disclosure of personal information will undermine the public's right to know and obstruct media reporting, whether the Government will initiate consultation with stakeholders who have concerns about this issue and take appropriate follow-up measures to address public concerns; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(b) in the light of the aforesaid investigation to be conducted by The Ombudsman, whether the Government will immediately conduct a comprehensive review on the Code on Access to Information (the Code) and request all government departments to strictly comply with the requirements of the Code; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(c) whether the Government will consider immediately proceeding with the legislation on freedom of information, including conducting related research and public consultation, so as to establish a comprehensive legal framework for public access to government information; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     Dr Hon Chan's question touches on matters under different policy bureaux. I will represent the Administration to give a consolidated reply as follows:

     On part (a) of the question, the new arrangement concerning the inspection of the Companies Register under the new Companies Ordinance was introduced having regard to the views gathered from a public consultation exercise conducted in 2009-2010, in order to satisfy the public need to access information on one hand and protect the privacy of over one million existing and former directors on the other. We seek to strike a reasonable balance between these two aspects. Under the new arrangement, members of the public may inspect the correspondence address and part of the identification number of a director on the Companies Register. Together with the name of the director, the information would facilitate the person inspecting the Companies Register to verify the identity of the director concerned. The new arrangement had been thoroughly scrutinised by the Legislative Council (LegCo). It forms part of the new Companies Ordinance, which was approved by the LegCo last year.

     We are preparing the Companies (Residential Addresses and Identification Numbers) Regulation for implementing the new arrangement. This piece of subsidiary legislation will set out the application procedures for purging of personal data on existing documents, the types of persons who may apply to the Companies Registry for inspecting the residential address and full identification number of directors as well as the procedures for making such applications. During the LegCo's scrutiny of the new Companies Ordinance, we have sought the views of the Bills Committee. There was consensus that the subsidiary legislation would prescribe shareholders, public officers (including enforcement agencies and the Labour Department) as well as liquidators etc, as persons who may apply to the Companies Registry for accessing a director's residential address and full identification number.

     We note that the media has recently expressed views over the new arrangement. We also note that the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data has indicated his support for enhancing the protection of personal data on the Companies Register through measures to improve the inspection system. We are consulting the Commissioner on the preparation of the relevant subsidiary legislation. We will continue to gauge public views on the way forward and follow up the matter with the LegCo.

     On part (b) of the question, at present, members of the public who wish to request information held by the Government can make such requests to relevant bureaux or departments under the Code on Access to Information (the Code). Since the introduction of the Code in 1995, about 98 per cent of the requests for information which was held by the bureaux or departments concerned were met in full or in part. The current arrangement also provides a review mechanism which is further underpinned by a complaint channel through The Ombudsman.

     The Government issued an internal circular in 1995 clearly stipulating that all bureaux and departments are required to comply with the provisions of the Code. The circular was updated following a review in 2009 which further stipulates that all bureaux and departments are required to re-circulate the relevant circular on an annual basis to all officers involved in implementing the Code so as to ensure that they are familiar with and comply with the provisions of the Code. Moreover, we require all bureaux and departments to report regularly on compliance with the Code, including statistics on requests for information received and processed by them under the Code. We also publish quarterly statistics on the Code through press releases.

     Back in 2009-2010, The Ombudsman has conducted a direct investigation into the effectiveness of the administration of the Code and subsequently put forth 11 recommendations for improvement. These recommendations included:

(1) to organise more, and timely, training for Access to Information Officers (AIOs) and remind bureaux and departments to provide AIOs with appropriate guidelines to assist their implementation of the Code;

(2) to work with bureaux and departments to organise more training for other staff;

(3) to arrange regular publicity for the Code;

(4) to add a Chinese version of the Guidelines on Interpretation and Application of the Code to the Government webpage on the Code;

(5) to require all bureaux' and departments' homepages to introduce the Code briefly and to be hyperlinked to the webpage on the Code;

(6) to prepare a dossier on the findings of The Ombudsman's inquiries and investigations and the results of review cases of various bureaux and departments for reference in staff training;

(7) to update and re-circulate regularly relevant circulars;

(8) to update the list of frequently asked questions and precedent cases regularly;

(9) to provide advice to bureaux and departments to ensure that their guidelines are clear, correct and up-to-date;

(10) to keep the format of the quarterly returns under regular review; and

(11) to follow up with other public bodies within The Ombudsman's purview for them to adopt the Code or some similar guide.

     Other than the LegCo Secretariat which will soon issue its guide on access to information according to its work schedule, all the recommendations of The Ombudsman have been accepted and implemented by the Government and the public bodies concerned.

     The above measures reflect that the Code has provided an effective mechanism for the public to access information held by the Government. We note that further to the direct investigation conducted in 2009-2010, The Ombudsman announced on January 4, 2013 to conduct another direct investigation into the access to information regime in Hong Kong. At the same time, the Secretary for Justice said on January 14, 2013 that the Law Reform Commission (LRC) would establish two sub-committees, one of which would consider the topic of access to information. We will carefully study the findings and recommendations of these two direct investigation and studies, and consider whether and how the prevailing access to information regime could be improved.

     On part (c) of the question, as mentioned in part (b), The Ombudsman will conduct a direct investigation into the access to information regime in Hong Kong, while the Secretary for Justice also said that a sub-committee of the LRC would review in detail the topic of access to information and embark upon a comprehensive comparative study of the relevant laws in overseas jurisdictions, with a view to making appropriate recommendations on possible options for reform if need be. We will co-operate in connection with the above investigation and studies, and will carefully consider the way forward when the findings or recommendations are available.

Ends/Wednesday, January 23, 2013