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LCQ18: Government records management
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     Following is a question by the Hon Emily Lau and a written reply by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mr Stephen Lam, in the Legislative Council today (October 19):

Question:

     It has been reported that government departments originally located at the Central Government Offices had destroyed a vast number of public records before their relocation to the new Central Government Complex ("CGC") at Tamar; it has also been reported that the retention rate of archival records of the Hong Kong Government is far lower than countries where archival law has been enacted, such as the United Kingdom ("UK"), the United States ("US") and Australia, etc. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether the relevant policy bureaux and government departments ("B/Ds") had obtained the agreement of the Government Records Service ("GRS") Director for the public records to be destroyed before relocating to the new CGC at Tamar; if they had, of the respective numbers of public records regarding which the GRS Director's agreement for their destruction was given as well as those the GRS Director's agreement was not given in the past six months, with a breakdown by B/Ds; whether it knows the retention rates of archival records of the governments of UK, US and Australia, how the retention rate of archival records of the Hong Kong Government compares with that of such countries, and the reasons for the differences in the retention rates when comparing to such countries;

(b) whether GRS knows the current numbers of government records relating to the initiatives below, and whether B/Ds concerned have hitherto destroyed any of these records: (i) the Government's preparation of the 2011-2012 Budget and the adjustment to the originally proposed measures to give a sum of $6,000 to each Hong Kong Permanent Identity Card holder aged 18 or above; (ii) the introduction of local legislation to implement Article 23 of the Basic Law in 2002-2003, and the subsequent decision to shelve the legislative proposal; and (iii) the original and adjusted Package of Proposals introduced by the Government for the Methods for Selecting the Chief Executive and for Forming the Legislative Council in 2012; and

(c) given that at present there is no archival law to regulate B/Ds in opening and keeping records, how GRS knows whether B/Ds had destroyed confidential or important records without obtaining the agreement of the GRS Director; of the existing mechanism to penalize Heads of B/Ds for unauthorized destruction of public records as well as the penalties involved; whether any official from B/Ds had been accused of, received warnings or penalized for unauthorized destruction of public records since 1997; if so, of the number of cases concerned, years of occurrence, the departments involved and summaries of such cases; whether the authorities will examine the enactment of archival law?

Reply:

President,

(a) As one of the mandatory records management requirements promulgated through a General Circular in April 2009, bureaux and departments (B/Ds), including those bureaux/offices (B/Os) relocated/to be relocated to the new Central Government Offices (CGO) at Tamar, are required to obtain prior agreement from the Government Records Service (GRS) Director before destruction of records.  GRS will process B/Ds' records disposal requests according to the retention and disposal requirements set out in the respective disposal schedules.  During the process, time-expired records having archival value will be identified and transferred to GRS for permanent retention.  For those records disposal requests which do not meet the retention and disposal requirements, e.g. length of time that records should be retained, adoption of the appropriate disposal schedule etc., the B/Ds concerned are required to resubmit the requests to GRS when the requirements are met in full.  We have not kept information on such cases.  Regarding disposal requests processed and approved, a total of 1,181.71 linear metres of time-expired records of the B/Os relocated/to be relocated to the new CGO were approved for destruction in the past six months from April to September 2011.  A breakdown by B/Os is tabulated below íV

Bureau/Office          No. of requests   Quantity of
                       processed and     records
                       approved          approved for
                       (Note 1)          destruction
                                         (in linear
                                         metres)

Central Policy Unit           7             26.85
Chief Executive's             1             66.56
Office
Chief Secretary for          34            214.11
Administration's Office
Civil Service Bureau         72            343.12
Commerce and Economic        47            173.97
Development Bureau
Constitutional and            5             14.54
Mainland Affairs Bureau
Development Bureau           14            169.64
Education Bureau             17             36.26
Environment Bureau            1              2.60
Food and Health Bureau        7             38.70
Financial Services and       37             60.02
the Treasury Bureau
Home Affairs Bureau           6              7.92
Security Bureau              15             18.07
Transport and Housing         3              9.35
Bureau (Transport Branch)
(Note 2)
Total                       266          1,181.71

Note 1: In the statistics collected, no distinction has been made as regards whether the individual requests for disposal of records were related to the relocation. For disposal requests which do not meet the retention and disposal requirements as specified in the approved disposal schedule, GRS will require the B/D concerned to resubmit the requests when such requirements are met.

Note 2: Transport and Housing Bureau (Housing Branch) will not move to the new CGO.

     On retention of archival records, only records appraised by GRS as having archival value will be transferred to GRS for permanent retention.  In order to assess their archival value, GRS appraises the content and context of the records according to a set of selection criteria which are similar to those adopted by overseas archives.  In this regard, we do not establish any target on the rate of government records to be retained as archival records.  We have not conducted a comprehensive research on the retention rates of archival records of other governments.

(b) Under the existing records management system, responsibilities for proper management of government records are shared between B/Ds that create and collect records, and GRS which is tasked to oversee the management of archival records and government records on a government-wide basis.  Amongst other measures, GRS has promulgated records management procedures and guidelines to ensure proper management of government records for compliance and reference by B/Ds.  In particular, B/Ds should create and collect adequate but not excessive records to meet their operational, policy, legal and financial purposes.  GRS does not have readily available information on the quantities of records relating to the subject matters listed in the question kept by the relevant bureaux/office.  GRS has not received any disposal request of these records.

(c) According to the relevant records management procedures and guidelines promulgated by GRS, B/Ds should create and collect adequate but not excessive records to meet their operational, policy, legal and financial purposes.  As an on-going effort, the Government reviews and improves on the arrangements for records management from time to time to ensure that no government records will be destroyed until proper appraisal by GRS.  We introduced in April 2009 a set of mandatory requirements through the issue of a General Circular.  One of the requirements is that B/Ds must obtain the prior agreement from the GRS Director before destruction of records.  Further, B/Ds are required to transfer records having archival value to GRS for permanent retention.  B/Ds are also required to thoroughly investigate cases of loss or unauthorized destruction of records with the relevant findings provided to GRS.  The mandatory records management requirements apply to all government servants and disciplinary proceedings may be taken against a government servant if he disobeys, neglects or fails to observe the requirements.  Since the issue of the General Circular, we have received a report by the Fire Services Department in 2010 on a case involving the administering of disciplinary action against a Government servant.  The case was related to mistaken destruction of records.

     The Government attaches great importance to records management and strives to appraise and preserve government records with archival value.  However, enacting an archival law is not the only way to improve the management of government and archival records. The Government has put in place administrative arrangements to facilitate the identification, transfer, and preservation of and public access to archival records.  GRS has also promulgated records management procedures and guidelines to ensure proper management of government records.  We believe that implementing a set of effective administrative arrangements for records management at present is crucial to the continuing improvement of government records management.  GRS will continue to improve its services and we will keep the present administrative system of records management under review and improve on the administrative arrangements as necessary.

Ends/Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Issued at HKT 12:16

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