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Why the secrecy surrounding Hong Kong’s societies?

Wednesday, 07 August, 2013, 12:00am



Howard Winn

Why is it that Hong Kong has such absurdly byzantine regulations surrounding information about societies?

Anyone can pay a fee and search a firm, limited company, car ownership, marriage records, land ownership, and so on. The online searchable data shows ID cards and addresses. No consent is needed from a partner, director, vehicle owner or land owner to search government records containing their names.

So why does the Societies Office have to be different. If you want to find out information regarding the members or office bearers of a registered society, you have to get their written permission. This is silly, since if you don’t know who they are, you can’t obtain their permission. All we can do is obtain a copy of the society’s constitution, and to do that we have to go to the police headquarters in Wan Chai, even though the information is held digitally and could be easily distributed by e-mail.

The peculiarities of this arrangement came to our attention last year when a group called the Hong Kong Islands District Association suddenly showed up in the middle of the Shek Kwu Chau incinerator saga and was able to access environmental funds controlled by the Environment Bureau and take islanders off on subsidised trips to Singapore and Taiwan to look at incinerators.

The name is similar to the Islands District Council, which, confusingly, is a government body. Why should the details of societies be so guarded when information on companies and the like is freely available? The system is outdated and the rules that apply to companies should be applied to societies in this respect.

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