Clement T.H. Ong muses on the Freedom of Information legislations recently tabled by the Selangor and Penang State Governments.
The “right-to-know” is a basic human right.
We analyze the intentions of the lawmakers in passing any legislation by making reference to the Hansard for the parliamentary debates.
We understand the reasoning of the judges in making a decision to acquit an accused or to punish a criminal by reading the judgments laid down.
But most of the time, we are kept in the dark on government administrative decisions.
We have no clue on concessionary agreements between the government and toll operators, but we have been repeatedly told by the government that we have to allow the toll rates to be increased.
We have no idea on government procurements and public administrators never have to explain nor justify whether procurements made are always above the market value. Should these be the indicators of malpractice or corruption within the public institution?
In the absence of public disclosure, the people are unable to check and balance the public administrators effectively. Therefore we need legislation on the Freedom of Information (FOI), to guarantee access to the information held by public administrators and institutions.
FOI legislation promotes transparent and openness in public administration. This legislation reminds public administrators to uphold their integrity throughout decision-making, as well as their actions and rationales are accountable to the people at all times.
Furthermore, the FOI legislation is the best medicine to eliminate corruption practice in the public sector.
Despite the Federal Government lacking the political will and the limitations imposed by the existing Official Secrets Act 1972 (OSA), Selangor and Penang State Governments have taken the initiative to spearhead the enactment of the sunshine law.
The Selangor State Government and Penang State Government have tabled bills in their state assemblies on July 15, 2010 and November 1, 2010 respectively.
Surprisingly, the opposition parties in the state assemblies have taken a non-constructive role in strengthening the bill of enactment, except for Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia in Penang (GERAKAN).
Undoubtedly, the provisions in the proposed FOI enactment would contradict the federal legislation OSA. To circumvent the situation and to enhance the effectiveness of the FOI legislation, the head of the public administrator of a State must prepare to give up his or her statutory right in withholding the information from the people.
However, the Penang State public administration has become a big fan of OSA lately, under the new administration. Therefore, the concerns and the limitations highlighted by the GERAKAN on the FOI legislation have raised doubts on the sincerity and determination of the State Government in implementing the FOI legislation, if it has been passed.
Otherwise, the FOI legislation would remain as a toothless tiger.
On the other hand, GERAKAN is silent over its support towards the enactment of the FOI legislation, if the FOI legislation is ‘perfectly drafted’. This raises the same doubt on the sincerity of GERAKAN in strengthening the basic rights of the people.
I do not expect the GERAKAN in spearheading the abolition of OSA, nor enacting the federal FOI. But at the very least, I would expect them to persuade their alliance to agree and to recognize the “right-to-know” of the people.
When the sunshine law is in place, our future is getting brighter.
Tun Clement, an advocate for liberalism. His “tun-ship” is granted by his daddy upon his birth. He is the de facto leader of Liberal Alliance (fictitious).