THE campaign for freedom of information advocated by civil society organisations in Malaysia is now five years old, and finally it has come to fruition. With the new change of state government, Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim has now taken the bold step of ensuring freedom of information.
The Selangor government’s demand that the federal government publicly release the findings of the tragic Bukit Antarabangsa landslide that happened on 6 Dec 2008 is indeed a valid one. Khalid has cited that Section 2C of the Official Secrets Act (OSA) allows ministers and menteris besar to declassify documents, and hence, to make public the report on the landslide that was prepared by the Works Ministry and tabled before cabinet. However, there has been silence from the federal government.
It is important for the public to have freedom and access to information. This is one of the foundations of democracy that enables ordinary citizens to see what is going on, and to check corruption and mismanagement within the government. It ensures that we, the citizens, can hold our government accountable.
The federal government clearly understands the need to have control over the flow of information. When Datuk Seri Najib Razak took over as prime minister in April 2009, he formed the Ministry of Information, Communications and Culture (KPKK).
As rightly noted by Jac SM Kee and Sonia Randhawa in their paper Violence Against Women and ICT: Malaysia (2009), “the Ministry of Information in particular, has been seen to play a key role in governance.” Under this combined ministry, it will manage and have even greater hold over the flow of information to the public, and consequently over exchange, discourse proliferation and expression.
The truth about the Bukit Antarabangsa landslide needs to be told and discussed. What were the probable causes of the landslide, the findings about the area’s safety, and the possible recommendations for future planning? What of the families of victims who died in the tragedy? These must not be kept secret. Truth cannot hide behind repressive laws like the OSA.
Bukit Antarabangsa is not the only case. In 2008 alone, Malaysia experienced at least eight landslides that took away lives and created hardship for the survivors. Yet the public is unaware as to why such disasters happened.
The time has come to commit to more open and transparent governance. Governments should release to the public all documents now classified under the OSA, and move towards replacing the law with a Freedom of Information Act. The public must demand for these reforms as they have a right to know.
Maria Chin Abdullah
Chair and Secretariat of the Coalition for Good Governance (CGG)
1 Dec 2009
CGG is made up of 23 members of civil society organisations, with 14 taskforces.