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Sabah NGOs adamant on Official Secrets Act repeal
Published on: Tuesday, December 03, 2019
By: David Thien


Photo Source: c4center.org
Kota Kinabalu: Sabah NGOs, including special interest groups like Native rights and MA63 rights activists, and media personnel who participated in the National Stakeholders Consultation on the Right to Information Legislation event were most adamant that the Official Secrets Act (OSA) be repealed by parliament and replaced by a Freedom of Information Act.

Their assertiveness as remarked by West Malaysian participants and organisers was encouraging as the Minister in charge of the Legal Affairs Division of the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Liew Vui Keong is from Sabah, who promised to fulfil what was stated in the PH manifesto on the OSA.

The event is an initiative to help draft a Freedom of Information Act as part of the Government’s commitment to promote good governance in public administration.

As for the setting up of the proposed Information Commission, the participants concurred that the commissioners’ renumeration should be paid out of the Consolidated Fund, to protect its independence from political interference.

The event organised by the Centre for Independent Journalism and others in the interest of advocating media freedom and access to information was held on Thursday Nov 28 at Dewan Saksama of the Legal Affairs Division of the Prime Minister’s Department, attended by about 60 participants.

According to Cynthia Gabriel (pic) of the Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4) with the motto: ‘Clean, Conscious, Competent and Credible’, Malaysia joined the United Nations (UN) in 1965. Under the UN rubric, Freedom of Information (FOI) is explicitly stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, which phrases the right to information as part and parcel of a broader right to freedom of opinion and expression.

“In order to make the case for a robust freedom of information law in Malaysia, we first must establish that Freedom of Information is indubitably part and parcel of international standards for good governance and human rights.

“There is an inseparable relationship between an individual’s right to information and their quality of participation in democratic governance of Malaysia.”

A participant from Sabah had complained that information on development affecting the Natives was not given or made available even though the authorities had claimed to be planning with the people for their benefit in the past. A current example is the proposed Papar Dam with scant or vague details.

Another lamented that minutes of meeting concerning development projects were kept as secret by local authorities or the government when it should be made aware to skateholders who should have been consulted before the final decision made for its implementation and related matters.

The statement is in affirmation of an earlier UN resolution that ‘freedom of information is a fundamental right and is the touchstone of all freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated’.

In 1999, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Opinion and Expression (UNSRFOE) Abid Hussain conducted a country visit to Malaysia and noted the following: “Furthermore, access to public information or information relating to public interest issues is severely restricted by the Official Secrets Act 1972, which was amended extensively in 1983. Under this Act, departmental heads have broad powers to classify documents as ‘secret’ and therefore inaccessible to the public.

C4’s Cynthia said: “In Malaysia, further substantive critical areas for FOI are general procurement processes, international trade negotiations and defence procurements.

“Given their history with regards to corruption, more attention must be given to these issues. It is our hope that the eventual FOI law is sufficiently robust to pre-emptively check kleptocratic tendencies, and we recognise historical efforts by fellow Malaysian organisations to fight towards a strong, effective FOI law.

“C4 Centre upholds this opportunity to what we see as a realisation of an undeniable key component of democratic governance.

“This is two-pronged: First, in order to make informed choices, citizens must have a democratic ‘Right to Information’ and ‘Right to Access Documents’ which the government collects and holds; Second, the right to access documents opens up opportunities for private citizens to scrutinise government decisions and spending that directly or indirectly affects them, contributing to the reduction of public service corruption,” she stressed.

Cynthia reminded participants including from the Royal Malaysian Police that C4 Centre has long advocated for a Federal Freedom of Information Law, especially under the oppressive conditions of the Official Secrets Act, which, either by design or implementation, was anathema to the spirit of Freedom of Information.

Article 19 of the International Convenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 reaffirms and guarantees the right to freedom and opinion, but also the “freedom to seek and receive information.”

Malaysia has signed the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) on Dec 9, 2003 which was ratified on Sept 24, 2008. UNCAC recognises that transparency and public reporting are key to combatting corruption.

It was an achievement for representatives from East Malaysia to the event to enhance understanding among West Malaysians of the special position of Sabah and Sarawak and the entitlements of autonomy in State laws for which the Federal authorities need to take into consideration before formulating legislation for the whole country that affects Malaysia’s Borneo which has a bigger combined land mass than the whole of Malaya.



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