February 07, 2005

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Freedom from information

It's now official: Hong Kong's Government has entered the laundry business. David Webb's efforts to test the non-binding Code on Access to Information to extract accounts data on Cyberport may ostensibly appear fruitless. But it proved two things. Unsurprisingly the "collusion-free" Government has absolutely no interest in sharing information on Cyberport. But far more amazing is this from Webb's latest must read report:

OGCIO* had provided to LegCo sanitized accounts without the commercially sensitive information.
The Government has admitted it did not disclose to Legco the full truth over Cyberport. What does the newly collusion-free Government have left to hide?

Webb has previously looked at the Cyberport debacle. This latest newsletter was based on his requests for information after the orginal article. There's more in the new report, such as why the Government keenly opposed measures to have directors' reports and financial statements open for public inspection. It also hints at why HK has a non-binding information access code, rather than true Freedom of Information laws. Mr. Webb got the Ombudsman involved and eventually extracted a clenched-teeth apology from OGCIO. No information, but an apology. It would be funny if it weren't so serious. Read it all.

Best of all is Webb's conclusion:

Given the secrecy surrounding the Cyberport, and the way the Government claims to have bound itself into confidentiality obligations by contract, the public has good reason to wonder whether Government will do the same thing with the so-called West Kowloon Cultural Development, or Cultureport (yes, it is by the harbour, like our windowless Cultural Centre in Tsimshatsui). Perhaps, 5-10 years from now, you will be hearing that the accounts of the single developer, and the accounts of the cultural facilities, cannot be divulged due to commercial sensitivity - they won't want the public to know just what a huge profit the developer has extracted from the 40 hectare site in return for a few more museums and performing venues to subsidise some of the arts.

Even if you agree that in a free market, the Government should subsidise certain sections of our creative economy with taxpayers' money (which we do not), this is an incredibly inefficient way to do it. The Government should parcel up West Kowloon into normal sized chunks, install the basic infrastructure such as access roads to ensure co-ordinated development, determine what waterfront areas should be set aside for public enjoyment, and then auction the development sites to the highest bidders in the normal way, including a staggered auction schedule to prevent hitting the market with up to 40 hectares in one go. If legislators agree that a site on the headland for a subsidised cultural facility should be set aside and funded from the public purse, then so be it, but that should be a separate matter.

Karl Marx was almost right. In this case it's farce again by the sanitizers-in-chief.

It gives new meaning to "Chinese laundry".

* Office of the Government Chief Inforation Officer

posted by Simon on 02.07.05 at 04:12 PM in the


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