Suhakam: Scrap OSA, enact freedom of information law

Raynore Mering
Chairman Tan Sri Razali Ismail today said the law can be drafted in line with international standards — except for documents that fall under specific and targeted exemptions on security grounds. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

PETALING JAYA, Aug 29 — The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) has proposed replacing the Official Secrets Act 1972 (OSA) with a “freedom of information law” to give the public access to government documents upon request.

Its chairman Tan Sri Razali Ismail today said the law can be drafted in line with international standards — except for documents that fall under specific and targeted exemptions on security grounds.

“Suhakam regrets the government’s decision to retain the outdated OSA and would like to remind the new government that access to information which concerns public interest is pivotal to the democratic principles of transparency and good governance, as well as the rule of law,” he said in a press statement.

He also said the commission disagreed with Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s call to “elect those who won’t abuse the law”.

“...The fate of Malaysia cannot be left at the hands of a few good men. Instead institutional and legal guarantees are the way forward,” Razali said.

Dr Mahathir told Malaysiakini on Monday that scrapping the OSA would hinder the federal government’s work at the Cabinet level despite Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) promise to revise the law prior to the 14th general election.

The prime minister said the Act was necessary to prevent ministers from speaking publicly about confidential government matters.

Razali today also said the right to freedom of information is guaranteed under the Asean Human Rights Declaration and many international conventions that the government had promised to ratify to raise 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.

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

Razali said the OSA was misused by the previous administration under Datuk Seri Najib Razak to curtail access to 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) documents alleging corruption.

“Maintaining the OSA may therefore give reason for the public to believe that subsequent governments can also abuse the law to mask corruption.”

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