Category: Companies Ordinance

Former Companies Registrar Critical of New Company Director Rule

Gordon Jones, the Registrar of Companies between 1993 and 2007,  says the reasons for withholding information on company directors are weak to begin with, and the consequences of such action will be worse than expected for Hong Kong’s international reputation.

If enacted, the new provisions will undermine the principles of accountability and transparency that lie at the heart of Hong Kong’s company law, undermine our corporate governance standards and adversely affect Hong Kong’s image as a major international business and financial centre.

Read his op-ed in the South China Morning Post here

JEPF Opposes Exemption for Media in New Companies Ordinance

The following is the text of a letter sent by JEPF to Legislator Emily Lau for discussion by pan-democrats in LegCo

07 February 2013

Journalism Educators for Press Freedom (JEPF) is a group of teachers of journalism from Hong Kong’s tertiary education institutions. We are concerned about the state of press freedom in Hong Kong and the reporting conditions for Hong Kong journalists in Hong Kong and elsewhere.

JEPF is deeply concerned about provisions in the amended Companies Ordinance which will hide the residential addresses and ID card numbers of company directors from public access. This move strikes a blow to transparency and accountability in Hong Kong’s commercial and financial sectors and public life.

The government argues the move is necessary to safeguard privacy but the Privacy Commissioner has only ever received two complaints related to information obtained from company records, neither of which was upheld.

We are aware the government has been sending out signals that it may be willing to grant an exemption to the news media but we wish to state that we are opposed to this ‘concession’. Some of the reasons are:

  • Such a move would require defining (presumably by the government) what constitutes journalism, journalistic activities and news organisations at a time when definitions and boundaries are being constantly redrawn in the face of changing technology and the internet.
  • Journalists are not the only group of people affected by the changes. Everyone has the right to protect their interests by using the information from the Companies Registry. With the information obtained, they may take action such as appealing to the press for follow-up action. This helps society to monitor irregularities.
  • Journalists are a part of society, they should serve society. They should not be pushed into a special category of people who depend on the government to grant them privileged access to what should be public information.
  • The withholding of hitherto publicly available information damages freedom of information in Hong Kong. Even if journalists are granted an exemption, they would still be working in an environment with restricted freedom of information. This affects society as a whole and is bad for the practice of journalism.

We ask members of the Legislative Council not to accept an exemption but to instead call on the government to remove the relevant section on disclosure of this information.

Journalism Educators for Press Freedom

Names: Yuen Chan(陳婉雯), Eva Chan Sik-chee(陳惜姿), Vivian Tam Wai-wan(譚蕙芸), Avis Or Wai-sum(柯惠心), Emily Owen(翁愛明), Bruce Lui Ping-kuen(呂秉權), To Yiu-ming(杜耀明)

 

大專新聞教育工作者聯席要求當局撤回公司條例有關查冊的修訂附例

立法會新修訂的《公司條例》中,其中一條附例《公司(住址及身分識別號碼)規例》列明,公司董事及秘書的個人資料如住址和身分識別號碼,將列為不供公眾查閱資料。這個修訂將嚴重打擊新聞界,本聯席感到十分擔憂及焦慮。

公司查冊一向是記者進行偵查報道的重要工具,從一個住址,可找出千絲萬縷的資料,根據線索,可發掘出全幅圖畫。這些資料讓新聞界掌握真憑實據,揭露高官或議員的利益衝突、踢爆矇騙公眾的問題公司。政府現時封殺此渠道,等於扼殺記者重要的消息來源。

財經事務及庫務局,連同公司註冊處,就《公司條例》有此重大修改,卻只諮詢公眾一個月(2012年11月至12月中),其中新聞從業員竟從未被諮詢,做法粗疏,叫人髮指。

此事已在新聞界引起極大迴響,當局在維護市民私隱的同時,應保存公眾最大的知情權。因此,本聯席要求當局撤回這項修訂附例,讓新聞界可以繼續捍衛公眾利益。

大專新聞教育工作者聯席

2013年1月8日

Statement on Companies Ordinance

The new Companies Ordinance was passed by the Legislative Council in July last year. The Legislative Council is currently discussing provisions which include the withholding details of the residential addresses and Identity Card/Passport numbers of company directors from public access. We believe this amendment presents a severe setback to journalists in Hong Kong. Journalism Educators for Press Freedom (JEFP) is extremely concerned and worried about this development.

Company searches have always been an important tool for investigative journalism. From a single residential address, journalists can discover leads that help them to uncover facts and untangle webs of interconnections and show the bigger picture. This information allows journalists to grasp concrete evidence in exposing conflicts of interest among senior officials and elected representatives, and to reveal the shady practices of dishonest companies. To cut off this channel of discovery is to seriously stifle an important source of information for journalists.

The Financial Services and Treasury Bureau, together with the Companies Registry, is enacting this big change but only allowed one month for public consultation (November to December 2012). We find this woefully inadequate and are extremely disappointed that practitioners from the news industry were not a part of the consultation.

This issue is provoking strong responses from the news industry. While protecting the public’s rights to privacy, authorities should also preserve the public’s right to know to the highest degree. Therefore, JEFP requests that the government withdraw this particular amendment and allow the news media to continue to protect the public interest.

Journalism Educators for Press Freedom

January 8 2013