HK Security Bureau under fire from lawmakers for not revealing public feedback on controversial extradition bill

07-May-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong’s Security Bureau has been criticised for applying “double standards” after it rejected a request from the Post to reveal the public feedback it collected on the city’s controversial extradition proposal.

Lawmakers said last week that revealing the nearly 4,500 written submissions gathered through the consultation process would provide a better understanding of public opinion on the beleaguered bill, which would allow the transfer of fugitives to jurisdictions which the city lacks an extradition treaty, including mainland China.

“The government has always claimed that the proposal won majority support in the consultation process, but apparently it does not want to let people know how it is supported,” said Charles Mok, a pan-democratic lawmaker for the information technology sector.

The Security Bureau in February allowed members of public to submit their views within 20 days after it presented the fugitive bill. In doing so, it dismissed the need to conduct a formal public consultation.

The bureau later announced that two-thirds of the submissions were in favour of the extradition proposal. The alleged support for the bill would have come despite heavy criticism by pan-democrats and the business community over fears it would expose people to unfair trials.

The bureau first turned down the Post’s request to obtain the public feedback made through the Code of Access to Information on March 29. It said the submissions related to third-party information and could not be disclosed without the third party’s consent.

On April 29, it rejected a request made by the Post on April 2 that it release the information after removing the contact information such as email addresses of the participants, saying it had not sought consent from the third parties.

The bureau said its decision could be appealed to the Office of the Ombudsman.

Even so, the stance of the bureau was a departure from previous government procedures.

In 2011, the Food and Health Bureau uploaded to its website the submissions by 132 organisations and 390 individuals that it had received in the public consultation review of a columbarium policy. It made the feedback public after removing the contact information of the respondents.

For such a critical public issue, I do not see why the views should be kept confidential.

Chris Yeung Kin-hing, chair of the Hong Kong Journalists Association

The same year, the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau conducted a public consultation over an anti-stalking law and uploaded hundreds of submissions in full with the name of respondents, except those who did not want to have their views made public. The bureau specifically indicated that some senders had requested anonymity or confidentiality.

Mok, a long-time advocate for a freedom of information law, criticised what he called the government’s double standards, which we said reflected a “conspiracy” to get the unpopular extradition bill passed as soon as possible.

He added that even if the ombudsman eventually rules that the government must disclose the submissions it might be too late because the fugitive bill could have been passed already.

Felix Chung Kwok-pan, the Liberal Party leader, said he saw no reason for the government not to disclose the submissions when it had done so in the past.

“Public opinion is worth looking into,” he said.

Chung said it was not enough for the government to summarise the consultation results in a city that has called for more transparency.

Chris Yeung Kin-hing, chair of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, said the government should make the submissions public unless the participants specifically requested confidentiality.

“For such a critical public issue, I do not see why the views should be kept confidential,” he said.

He added that the government should at least publicise the content after removing or obscuring the name and contact information of the senders.

“It is important to let the society know the public support of the proposal, covering it up would only cause doubts about the reliability of he consultation result.”

He also said the non-binding Code of Access to Information, which allows authorities to deny requests on 16 grounds, had defeated its purpose. He said numerous incidents suggested that the code had been used to block people from accessing information instead of helping them utilise it.


Category: Hong Kong

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