The Hong Kong government’s recent decision to limit access to public records marks a blow to journalists and others wanting to investigate official misconduct.
“The new rules will make it harder for journalists to hold those in power accountable,” said a reporter from a major American newspaper that tracks the wealth of Chinese elites.
“Right now, Hong Kong’s business profile is one of the most transparent in the world,” he said.
“Journalists can track the company’s directorship for individuals using their Hong Kong ID number,” he said, adding, “They can even get their home address. “.
“This information is invaluable in documenting the accumulation of wealth by the Communist Party’s elite families who have deposited their money in Hong Kong for decades.”
According to a report by the Hong Kong Legislative Council, the Hong Kong government “now wants to conceal the identities of people dealing with limited liability privileges, and encourage fraud and corruption”.
“Masks can protect people from infection, but the sun is the best disinfectant in the company registry,” the report said. “Keep the mask off HK ID.”
On March 30, Hong Kong CEO Carrie Lam said that the amendments related to the Corporate Registry are designed to protect personal privacy.
And she says she doesn’t see the need to include journalists on the list of individuals allowed to get company records.
In a Facebook post, the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) described the government’s decision as “another blow to Hong Kong’s press freedom”.
But journalists are not the only ones concerned.
Some observers, including the business world, believe that the decision will also have a negative impact on Hong Kong’s economy.
David Webb, described as “the most active investor in Hong Kong,” said the proposed government changes “will facilitate corruption, fraud and other crimes” .
Webb runs a free database of public information in Hong Kong and the UK.
On April 6, Simon Cartledge, former editor-in-chief Economist Intelligence Unit, saying “the attack on the city’s age-old freedoms may be most obvious, but its economy is also suffering.”
Cartledge, author of a book on Hong Kong, said: “First burdened by anti-government protests, then COVID-19,” Hong Kong’s economy “has been in recession for two consecutive years. next ”.
Growth will return to this year from 3.5% to 5.5%, according to Hong Kong Finance Minister Paul Chan.
But the recovery will soften, Cartledge said, commenter on Nikkei Asia website.
The Hong Kong economy won’t recover in 2018 until 2023, according to Cartledge’s calculations.
According to Chi-Kwang, Hong Kong Minister of Labor and Welfare, the unemployment rate, currently at 7%, will remain high for at least three years.
In an interview with The Wall Street JournalDavid Webb, who may be the most obvious critic of the changes announced by Carrie Lam, said her move would go against the international push for more transparency.
He added that Hong Kong should eliminate the wall of fees on its information, as New Zealand and the UK did.
Also talk to JournalKenneth Leung, a former legislator who represented the accounting sector before China eliminated him last year, said Carrie Lam’s proposed changes are bad news for bankers, lawyers and other professionals working in the financial industry.
That would include people working in mergers and acquisitions, he said, adding, “That means more money, more delays and sometimes misses of deals.”
Sweet Hong Kong for the rich
Hong Kong authorities have offered incentives to the city’s richest citizens in an effort to keep them from investing in the city and providing jobs for many citizens.
The New York Times recently described it as an attempt to “sweeten Hong Kong for the rich”.
“Even as it takes away civil liberties in Hong Kong, China is trying to appeal to the financial class, with the aim of keeping bankers and financiers from other business-friendly places. like Singapore, ” Timer to speak.
The newspaper reported that Hong Kong has proposed a program called Wealth Management Connect to give mainland Chinese in the southern part of China the ability to invest in investment companies and hedge funds. based in Hong Kong.
According to King Au, director of the Hong Kong Financial Services Development Council, travel restrictions caused by the pandemic have slowed the program’s development, but it remains a top priority.
Timer said that the mainland money made Hong Kong look more attractive to investors. The new services have raised $ 16 billion, including $ 5.4 billion for Kuaishou, the company that runs a Chinese video app.
The record start was helped in part by Chinese companies that had turned to the Hong Kong market to avoid raising money in the United States amid deteriorating political and commercial relations.
Dan Southerland is the founding Executive Editor of RFA.