Hong Kong to block public access to private company information



Public access to currently openly available private information of directors of companies listed in the Hong Kong Companies Register should be restricted, the city government said.

Companies already on the register will be allowed to block public access to the residential addresses of company directors and secretaries and their full identification numbers, while newly registered companies will be able to withhold information from the first day of registration. their entry in the register.

The Register of Companies. File photo: gov.hk.

Officials from the financial services and treasury office have described the move as an attempt to strike a balance between transparency and privacy.

However, activist investor David Webb, who maintains a free database of publicly available information on companies in Hong Kong and the UK, questioned the government’s decision and said the proposed changes. “Will facilitate corruption, fraud and other crimes.”

“I don’t think audiences need to know where a director sleeps at night – it’s a matter of personal safety,” Webb said. HKFP. “But they need to know exactly who the director is, and only a full, unique ID number can do that.”

David Webb. Photo: David Webb.

“The ID is not a password, it is an identifier, a better version of your non-unique name. The sun is the best disinfectant. Allowing directors to hide their identities reduces the ability of researchers and journalists to shine light in shady places, ”Webb added.

According to documents submitted by the office to the Legislative Council (LegCo), the new provisions will be applied in three phases:

  • Phase 1: Companies will no longer have to show the public the usual residential addresses of directors and their full identification numbers.
  • Phase 2: The private information contained in all documents filed for registration from October next year will be protected from public inspection.
  • Phase 3: From December 2023, companies can request that private information in all documents filed before the start of Phase 2 be protected from the public.
Chief Executive Officer Carrie Lam at a press briefing ahead of the Executive Council meeting on March 30, 2021. Photo: Selina Cheng / HKFP.

The proposed changes will go through the negative verification procedure in the legislature, which means that the legislation will enter into force and continue to function from the day of its publication in the Gazette, unless the LegCo passes a resolution. to modify it.

In 2013, the government scrapped plans to tighten public access to company register information as it rewrote the Companies Ordinance after objection from the media, shareholders and the private sector.

Lam: journalists have no “prerogative”

Ahead of an Executive Council meeting on Tuesday, Chief Executive Officer Carrie Lam said the amendments are designed to protect the privacy of individuals and that she saw no need to include journalists in the list of those authorized to obtain the documents. company records.

“I don’t see why journalists should have a prerogative,” Lam said. “Journalists who ask to see what others don’t see is a prerogative. In Hong Kong, no one has any prerogative.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) criticized the government’s decision in a Facebook post on Monday and said the move was another blow to press freedom in Hong Kong.

“Freedom of the press is a human right protected by basic law, the HKJA urged the government to immediately stop applying the clause, and [HKJA] will study and monitor the impact of relevant legislation, ”reads the message.

“The HKJA also urged the government to quickly implement archiving and freedom of information laws, in order to protect the public’s right to know. “

Gordon Jones, the Hong Kong Registrar of Companies from 1993 to 2007, said Bloomberg that he hoped the proposal would be repealed.

“In my 14 years as a corporate registrar, I have never received any complaints about these provisions or suggestions that they infringe the privacy of directors,” said Jones. Bloomberg. “I hope, however, that these flawed and bad legislative proposals will not only be postponed but also repealed.”

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