Monday, 28 April 2014

Shying from Public Interest

The Hong Kong government is trying to sweep this incident under the carpet
At the beginning of April I wrote about the Hong Kong government is doing a terrible job archiving documents and how it was criticized by Archives Action Group chairman William Waung Sik-ying.

Well, he's at it again -- this time blasting the government on not wanting to release the full report into the Lamma ferry disaster in 2012 that killed 39 people.

The government only issued a summary of the 430-page report and did not give names of who were responsible for the collision.

Waung, a retired High Court judge, believes the victims and relatives of those killed could demand the full release of the report that will put pressure on officials to give a full public account. He said it was a matter of public interest.

"The government is quite incredibly still trying to avoid the evil day and is desperate to minimize its responsibility into the whole affair," he said. "I am disturbed... the government is taking the extraordinary position of not releasing the report, which is of course a matter of public interest."

Last year as the head of Archives Action Group, he lodged a complaint with the ombudsman arguing for better management of Marine Department records, and criticized comments by Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung, who stressed confidentiality.

"The government's excuse of trying not the jeopardize possible future proceedings against the civil servants just does not wash," Waung said.

The report identifies 17 marine officials, including those at the directorate level, could be guilty of misconduct and "suspected criminality". The report has been passed on to the police for further investigation, and it also criticized the Marine Department's management for "highly unsatisfactory" record keeping.

Nevertheless the summary did not reveal the names of those possibly liable. The relatives are asking lawmakers to invite the powers and privileges laws of the Legislative Council to demand full disclosure.

Waung said the relatives may possibly get the full report by seeking legal aid and then launching a civil law suit against the government.

It has taken almost two years for the government to come out with this 430-page report -- and yet the public doesn't get to know exactly what happened and who is to blame. It has completely downplayed this tragic incident because it is to blame. But we as taxpayers have the right to know.

Hopefully the relatives will take Waung's advice and push the government to force its hand and reveal why this report is so sensitive that the public does not need to know.

What was supposed to be a happy occasion -- watching the National Day fireworks on a boat in Victoria Harbour turned into a disaster. We read stories of how children and people died, unable to evacuate the ferry fast enough because it was sinking so fast.

We need to know what happened and who is responsible so that we can try to ensure this does not happen again.

Surely the government does not want this incident repeated?

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