Suhakam regrets govt's decision to retain OSA

Kalbana Perimbanayagam

KUALA LUMPUR: The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) says it regrets the government’s decision to retain the outdated Official Secrets Act 1972 (OSA) because access to information of public interest is pivotal to democratic principles of transparency, good governance and the rule of law.

Suhakam chairman Tan Sri Razali Ismail said the right to freedom of information was guaranteed under the Asean Human Rights Declaration and many international conventions the government had promised to ratify to uplift Malaysia’s human rights compliance and image.

“The right is also an extension of the constitutional guarantee of the right to freedom of expression, extending to national issues that have plagued the country such as corruption and alleged embezzlement of funds by public officials,” he said today.

Accordingly, he said the government could no longer afford to evade the protection of the right to freedom of information of the rakyat.

Razali said Suhakam wished to remind that the OSA was misused by all past governments, including the administration of former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak who used it to curtail access to 1MDB documents.

He said subsequent governments could also abuse the law to mask corruption.

“Suhakam cautioned the government that OSA granted executives unfettered discretion to classify any document and information as an official secret and criminalises not only primary but secondary disclosure of classified information,” he said.

“This will cast a wide web on a large number of wrongdoers and arrests like in the past.”

In recognising the legitimate need to restrict the disclosure of certain types of information related to national security, Razali said Suhakam urged the government to enact a federal freedom of information law in place of OSA, which would allow the public to access government documents upon request.

“With adequate and genuine stakeholder consultations, this law can be drafted in line with international standards, except for documents that fall under specific and targeted exemptions on security grounds,” he said.

Razali said Suhakam also did not agree with Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s call to “elect those who won’t abuse the law” as a form of assurance that the law would not be abused because, the fate of Malaysia cannot be left in the hands of a few good men.

“Instead institutional and legal guarantees are the way forward,” Razali said. © New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd