DOE gets an OSA rap on the knuckles, CIJ says enact FOI
The Centre for Independent Journalism is disappointed with the move by the Department of Environment to 'remind' its personnel of their obligations under the Official Secrets Act, which could result in further blackout of information available to the public.
The New Straits Times reported on 4 May 2005 that top officers and those possessing sensitive information would have to sign a new declaration on the OSA. The report noted that this was unusual as civil servants only had to sign a non-disclosure form once and most DOE staff had already done it.
DOE director-general Rosnani Ibarahim reportedly denied that the move followed recent newspaper exposes on the lame duck enforcement of environmental laws; rather, it was prompted by a National Security Department briefing last month which proposed a refresher course and an annual pledge.
CIJ notes that this is a step backward from the assurance by S Sothinathan, deputy minister for Natural Resources and Environment, that DOE had not been gagged. Malaysiakini.com reported on 19 April 2005 that he had even invited journalists to contact state directors and ministry officials if they required more information about current problems besetting the department.
The OSA rap is doubly disappointing coming on top of World Press Freedom Day just the day before.
CIJ wishes to stress that disclosure of any weaknesses in the administration promotes accountability and good governance, qualities which would aid the present administration's avowed fight against corruption.
CIJ urges the government to repeal the OSA and replace it with a Freedom of Information Act which accommodates secrecy on national security matters while adhering to the principle of maximum disclosure.
CIJ notes and agrees with Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang who has called for a conference to campaign for a Freedom of Information Act. CIJ wishes to highlight that there is an ongoing campaign following a national seminar in Kuala Lumpur last September organised by Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM), Bangkok-based Forum-Asia and London-based Article 19. One of the outcomes of the seminar was a statement of principles available online at this URL: http://www.petitiononline.com/foiMsia/petition.html
Queries can be forwarded to CIJ, which is acting as the coordinator for the campaign.