HAKAM notes with great concern Prime Minister Tun Mahathir Mohamad’s recent comments to maintain the Official Secrets Act 1972 (OSA).
The OSA is an archaic law which grants excessive powers to Ministers & public officers to arbitrarily classify almost any government document as an “official secret”. The punishment for communicating an “official secret” can reach up to 7 years imprisonment, which is severely punitive in nature.
The OSA was regularly abused by the previous government to persecute opposition figures & civil society activists. Notably, former Pandan MP Rafizi Ramli was charged under the OSA for leaking a page of the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) audit report.
Maintaining the OSA in its current form runs contrary to the principles of transparency & freedom of information – which directly undermines accountability & good governance. Without adequate access to information of government policies, the citizenry cannot make informed decisions. Lack of informed decisions inevitably lead to incompetent, or worse, corrupt governments.
This is also a breach of Promise 14 of Pakatan Harapan’s manifesto, which states that the new Government would revise the OSA and enact a Freedom of Information Act. Keeping the OSA in our statute books is also inconsistent with Pakatan Harapan’s laudable commitment to instil integrity in governance via the establishment of the Special Cabinet Committee on Anti-Corruption & the Centre on Governance, Integrity and Anti-Corruption (GIACC).
It would also be an anomaly for two Pakatan Harapan state governments – Selangor & Penang – to have freedom of information legislation, yet the federal government chooses to adopt a conflicting position.
HAKAM is aware of the importance of maintaining state secrecy in limited occasions, such as military briefings and Cabinet meetings on the nation’s strategic assets. A Freedom of Information Act can accommodate these valid concerns, yet place freedom of information at the deserving forefront.
HAKAM hereby urges the Government to abolish the OSA and to enact a Freedom of Information Act in its place.
Lim Wei Jiet
On behalf of the HAKAM Executive Committee