The Archives Action Group (AAG) is a voluntary group of professionals and private citizens who are concerned with the absence of archives legislation in Hong Kong. Established as an informal group in May 2008, it took its present name in February 2009.
We advocate the introduction of an archives law in Hong Kong to:-
- Ensure the proper creation and management of public records.
- Ensure the proper identification, transfer and preservation of public records of enduring value.
- Ensure that access to and use of public records are rights protected by law.
- Improve the efficiency, transparency and accountability of government.
Importance of Records and Archives
Records are created to conduct business and as evidence of transactions, whilst archives are those records selected for permanent preservation because of their continuing value. They serve diverse legal, operational, research and recreational purposes including:-
- Confirming citizenship and ownership;
- Verifying rights and obligations;
- Decision making and delivering public services;
- Understanding government policies and operations;
- Tracing accountability of public officials;
- Preserving and interpreting community history
- Supporting learning and education, and generating new ideas and initiatives.
Why Archives Legislation
Proper management of public records and archives is regarded as the cornerstone of good governance, transparency and effective protection of documentary heritage and cultural identity. Currently, most jurisdictions in the world, including China, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan and Korea, have an archives law. Hong Kong is the rare exception.
Contrary to international best practice, the Government of Hong Kong relies on non-binding administrative rules and guidelines to manage and provide access to records and archives. These administrative arrangements have limited scope of application and enforcement. There are no penalties for breaches.
They do not cover statutory bodies funded by public money, such as the Airport Authority, the Hospital Authority, the Hong Kong Tourist Board and the Trade Development Council.
They are overridden by other records-related laws and are susceptible to changes in government policy, priorities and personnel.
Repeated cases of loss, unauthorized destruction and mishandling of government records have affected public confidence in the government and the preservation of local history and memory.
How does Archives Legislation Work
Archives legislation lays down the legal framework and professional standards for managing public records and archives as it:-
- Establishes an Archives Authority with statutory powers and professional capacity to formulate records policy and procedures. Sets out clear records management responsibilities of government agencies and government funded bodies for the proper creation, maintenance, distribution and disposal of records in both manual and electronic environments.
- Ensures systematic and transparent selection and preservation of archives.
- Provides access rights to the public in a consistent and equitable manner.
- Monitors and audits policy and program implementation.
- Penalizes non compliance.
Without archives legislation, any access rights provided by freedom of information are of little value as there is no assurance that the information sought is properly recorded, complete, reliable and readily accessible.
Benefits of Archives Legislation
Archives legislation raises the threshold for management, protection and professionalism in government record-keeping. Government efficiency and effectiveness are enhanced as the necessary records are created and made available in a timely manner for official business.
Government transparency and accountability are assured by providing the public with legal rights of records access and preventing any unauthorized disposal of records.
Members of the public are encouraged to understand government operations and to study issues relating to the community through the rich records resources preserved. This helps foster local roots and identity and promote public engagement with government bodies.
Implementation of archives legislation will have limited financial implications. Funds will be required primarily for strengthening the professional capacity and training programs in government agencies and government-funded organizations, and building an infrastructure of records audit and inspection to ensure compliance. These costs will be offset by savings from increased efficiency, proper records processing and storage, prompt access to records, and systematic records disposal.
Archives Legislation in Hong Kong
As an international hub with a sound legal system, developed infrastructure and civilized political culture, Hong Kong needs and deserves a compatible archives law to support good governance, sustainable development and protection of its archival heritage.
AAG has drafted an archives law for Hong Kong through conducting detailed research into legal mandate and the best archival practices of different jurisdictions. The draft law which we call the Public Records Bill is available for public consultation. AAG welcomes you to join us in promoting archives legislation and sharing our archival heritage. We can be reached at email@example.com
Consultant of Archives and Records Management; and former Government Records Service Director.
John P. Burns
Dean of Social Sciences, University of Hong Kong.
President of the Hong Kong Archives Society; Adjunct Associate Professor, History Department, Chinese University of Hong Kong; Special Advisor, Memory of the World Committee for Asia/Pacific Region (MOWCAP), UNESCO; Secretary General of the East Asian Regional Branch of the International Council on Archives (EASTICA); and former Government Records Service Director.
Retired District Judge.
Nelly Fung, J.P.
Founder of Chinese International School and ISF Academy; and historian by avocation.
Stacy Belcher Gould
Archivist; Member of International Council on Archives; Member of Society of American Archivists.
Member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong
Barrister and Member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong.
Business Archivist; and Secretary General, Memory of the World Committee for Asia/Pacific Region (MOWCAP), UNESCO.
Adjunct Professor, Faculty of law, University of Hong Kong; Director of the Maritime Museum; and retired High Court Judge.