PETALING JAYA, 19 May 2009: The Pakatan Rakyat (PR)-led Selangor government will table a Freedom of Information Enactment (FOIE) bill by the end of 2009.
“We hope to table the bill in November or December. That will be in the state assembly sitting at the end of the year,” said Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim in a press conference after state level celebrations for Press Freedom Day 2009.
“With this enactment, the PR’s promise to open up information for the people will be achieved,” Khalid added.
KhalidKhalid expressed hope that the federal government would note of the Selangor government’s move, and take steps to enact freedom of information legislation at a national level. He also stressed the need to remove existing laws that stifle freedom of information.
“Both the Internal Security Act (ISA) and Official Secrets Act (OSA) are two laws that must be repealed,” Khalid said.
In his opening speech, Khalid styled the OSA as a “stale law left by the British”, and stressed the need for it to be reviewed.
“The culture of classifying every document as ‘secret’ is excessive, as not all documents concern national security. These therefore should not be kept from public knowledge,” Khalid said.
“New documents are automatically classified under the OSA,” FOIE task force chairperson and Selangor state executive councillor Elizabeth Wong agreed.
She revealed that the limits to what the state government could or could not declassify was presently a grey area.
“The enactment will offer that clarity. It is important in specifying state jurisdiction,” Wong said.
While the cut-off date for tabling the FOIE bill is set at year’s end, Wong said that the task force is committed to getting it tabled earlier, during the Selangor state assembly’s July sitting.
Wong revealed that, after the bill’s first and second reading in the house, a select committee would take six months to collect feedback from Selangor residents, members of the civil service, and other stakeholders.
“In 2010 we will finally get to see the enactment come into force,” Wong said, during a public presentation about the FOIE.
The FOIE will allow public access to such documents under Selangor state jurisdiction, and place “information officers” in every state public body to oversee this service.
It will establish an independent State Information Commission, which will monitor requests, make recommendations for reforming access, and hear appeals from the public in freedom of information matters.
WongIt will also aim to criminalise the obstruction of access to, or destruction of, such declassified documents.
Wong dismissed the suggestion that the FOIE might cause friction between state and federal governments.
“If these documents are under state jurisdiction, [the federal government] can’t tell us what to do,” Wong said. She added that negotiations would be necessary in areas of dual jurisdiction.
“But it is their duty to have a Freedom of Information Act at the federal level,” Wong stressed. She cited the Bukit Antarabangsa issue as an example of lack of access impeding state interests. The Bukit Antarabangsa risk analysis report, Wong revealed, has been classified under the OSA.
The Press Freedom Day 2009 proceedings also saw the Selangor state government officially launch its own monthly paper, SelangorKini, which has been in circulation since June 2008, and web portal TVSelangor.
First of all Congratulations to the Government and People of Selangor for deciding to enact the Fredom of Information Act.
India enacted the same Act but later had to amend it to “Right to Freedom of Information Act”. I was invited to New Delhi to attend a Forum on the revised Act which was honoured by the Hon’ble Chief Minister of New Delhi and other eminent leading persons of India. The new Act provides for Commissioners all over the land and from recent news I gather that it has done a great service to the poor Indians who would otherwise have been cast in the dust bin by the bloated Civil Service and its nincompoops.