Rais criticised over FOI statement

Rais criticised over FOI statement

Minister must be taught difference between freedom of speech and access to freedom, say NGOs
Friday, March 16, 2012 – 16:03

 

PETALING JAYA: It is the right of every individual to request access for information which will ensure good governance and transparency, said local non-governmental organisations (NGOs), responding to Datuk Seri Rais Yatim’s statement that the Freedom of Information Act was unnecessary because freedom of speech and basic freedom was already enshrined in the Constitution.

The information communication and culture minister told parliament, yesterday, that the country already has the Whistleblower Protection Act 2010, audit reports and Information Act 1950 for “information dissemination”.

Suhakam commissioner Muhammad Sha’ani Abdullah said that the minister must be taught the difference between freedom of speech and access to information.

“Freedom of speech means the freedom to express and not freedom to get information. The FOI act is a law which allows the public to get information and he (Rais) should go back to school if he says that it is unnecessary,” Sha’ani said.

“Advanced and developed countries are actually already implementing the law. Even in the US, information can be requested from the FBI. Of course, they are not going to give it without justification,” he told The Malay Mail.

He explained that the FOI provides avenues for citizens and the media to access information. “The law will compel authorities to divulge information when requested because it provides the necessary procedures,” he said.

Transparency International (Malaysia) president Datuk Paul Low also pointed out could the public have freedom of information with the Official Secrets Act (OSA) 1972.

“I have to disagree with the minister. In theory, we may have freedom in our constitution but we do not have it in practice. This is why the FOI is so important.

“The FOI must also be synchronised with the OSA to determine what information affects national security,” he said.

Suaram executive director E. Nalini added that everyone has the right to “receive and impart information” under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“Freedom of information will promote transparency and good governance in the government. It will also help eradicate corruption.

“The public deserves to know how public funds are being used. Nobody knows where the taxpayer’s money is going. How will revealing EPF financial transactions jeopardise national security?” he said.

Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) executive director Masjaliza Hamzah also said that the country does not have to wait for the national audit reports to discover another major scandal.

“National security will not be jeopardised with the FOI Act. Big countries with heavy defense expenditures such as the US and UK have the FOI and they also feel strongly about their national security.

“National security should not be an excuse to not implement FOI,” he said.

Wan Saiful Wan Jan, chief executive of the think-tank Institute of Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas), stressed that the government must help facilitate the delivery of information if it refused to enact the FOI Act.

“If they don’t want to introduce the FOI then my suggestion is to create proper methods to tell everyone where they can get the information from.

“People are requesting for FOI because the system is not there,” he said.

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