ON INTERNATIONAL RIGHT TO KNOW DAY, NEW MALAYSIA MUST SEE AN FOI LAW WITH CIVIL SOCIETY ENGAGEMENT
PRESS RELEASE 28 SEPTEMBER 2018
PETALING JAYA (Friday): In conjunction with International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) today on 28 September, C4 Center calls on Malaysian lawmakers to expedite efforts to ensure that freedom of information law which have been promised by the Pakatan Harapan government becomes a reality.
“Getting a robust Freedom of Information Law at national level in Malaysia is one of the pivotal steps in ensuring a more transparent and accountable government, where corruption cases and especially grand corruption cases like 1MDB, SCORPENE and FELDA can never occur again.
While we’re getting mixed signals on government commitments on our rights to information, government lawmakers need to take into consideration the needs on the ground and consult with stakeholders, especially in civil society, to ensure the effectiveness of the upcoming bill.”– Cynthia Gabriel, C4 Center
Promise 14 of the Harapan manifesto commits the Pakatan Harapan government to enact a freedom of information law. So far, two state-level enactments have been put in place. However, the Official Secrets Acts is currently the main barrier for people, against obtaining public sector information, and it also breeds a culture of secrecy within the government itself, allowing secrecy provisions to shield corruption crimes. While Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Hanipa Maidin has recently mentioned that the cabinet has approved of a federal Freedom of Information Act and is eventually on the books, we urge the government to include all voices.
C4 Center would like to highlight that the government can tap on existing expertise as well as groundswell knowledge which exists in Malaysian civil society organisations. Sinar Project has been pioneering IT-based tools to enhance transparency; the Malaysian Bar has already embarked on a project to study the application of international legal standards; C4 Center is a leading advocate in FOI initiatives at both Selangor and Penang prior to regime change in GE14, and therefore a serious stakeholder in the issue.
Such stakeholders have an important voice in ensuring that the FOI law is sufficiently robust. We need to ensure ways the administering body, usually an information commission, has enough punitive bite and is sufficiently independent to guarantee the rights of citizens and whistleblowers to change the culture of secrecy. Such a body needs to be empowered as a non-partisan body to review cases of non-diclosure, have say over a clear national secrecy list and promote the use of request for information under the FOI law.
Countries across the world with the partnership of UNESCO are organising IDUAI commemorations this week with IPDC Talks, a global event series fueling an international discussion on the importance of access to information. Malaysia’s own IPDC satellite IPDC event was also held this week, and will be available to stream and to share on the Asia-Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development’s website. [see notes below.]
According to RTI-rating.org, over 123 countries have passed Freedom of Information laws, which grant individuals the right to request information from their respective governments. Malaysia is not yet on that list. Malaysia must catch on to this global trend and cannot afford to back slide on this fundamental right.
“In a highly interconnected global society, a lack of equal access to information is a sure way to increase marginalization and rapid exclusion from the rest of the world. The purpose of this international day is to remind governments and all the stakeholders in civil society of the need to ensure truly universal access to information.”– Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO
There is no need to chase ratings for the sake of topping them. But here it represent something deeper: the capacity for our government to recognise deep substantive reform through the granting of our inherent right to information. This is especially needed in the digital age where the flows of information is a great uplifter of communities and the vaccine against corruption, kleptocracy and grand theft.
Cynthia Gabriel (Ms.)
Executive Director, C4 Center
In The News
Expedite Freedom of Information Laws, Lawmakers Told, The Edge Markets, http://www.theedgemarkets.com/article/expedite-freedom-information-law-creation-lawmakers-told