Citing operational hiccups, Selangor Speaker says state FOI law needs improvements

Source: The Malay Mail Online

KUALA LUMPUR, June 10 — Selangor’s Freedom of Information Enactment 2010 (FOI) needs to implemented and used more efficiently, Selangor Speaker Hannah Yeoh said today, after several problems with the law surfaced following the public’s request for information on two high-profile highway projects and the state’s controversial water deal.

She explained that inexperienced staff and operational hiccups had upset the public when they did not receive the information they requested about the Damansara-Shah Alam Expressway (Dash), Kinrara-Damansara Expressway (Kidex) and the agreement about Selangor’s water restructuring exercise with Putrajaya.

“Some operational problems that we discovered… since the passing of the law, there is no exco or state minister put in charge of the portfolio to make sure there is execution.

“(Former Selangor mentri besar) Tan Sri Khalid (Ibrahim) back then left it to the hands of the state secretary.

“You cannot leave such a controversial act in the hands of civil servants because civil servants have been trained all this while to operate using the Official Secrets Act (OSA),” she said.

The OSA is a federal law that permits the classification of certain government documents as confidential. Those who publicly disclose OSA documents can be charged under the law.

The FOI, on the other hand, allows the public to access state documents. It was passed in 2010 during Khalid’s tenure but, according to Yeoh, the enactment has fallen short of its intended target.

She pointed out that the officers handling requests for the public disclosure of state documents lack training and are often transferred to another department before they are able to process a request.

To prevent this, Yeoh suggested that these officers be employed on a contractual basis, which would help ensure they complete a transaction before they are transferred out.

Yeoh also suggested the creation of a timekeeper position to ensure requests are processed within one month, noting that some previous requests went stale after they were not processed for two to three months.

The Speaker also said that while the FOI has been beneficial for many in Selangor, when it came to requesting information about local matters, the system has also been abused by the likes of lawyers or event planners.

“There is also an abuse I think, lawyers wanting to get land information they apply using FOI.

“You have event management companies applying for FOI saying ‘Can you please give me a list of businesses dealing with this programme’ so that they can sell their product to them,” she said.

Yeoh was speaking about the FOI during a Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4) forum titled “The Official Secrets Act (OSA): Repeal, Review or Stay?” in which panellist touched on the repercussions that withholding public information has had on the country’s progress.

Malaysian Bar president Steven Thiru, also a panellist, said that Malaysian citizens had a right to know the inner workings of their governments, and expressed disagreement with how even the minutes to local council meetings are made confidential.

“Cabinet and state executive council documents should not be classified. Should we not know these decisions are made and what is in the pipeline for us? To classify it is not good governance,” he said.

Thiru also championed the implementation of a system that automatically releases confidential information to the public after an allotted time, similar to that in the United States.

The Malaysian Insider chief executive Jahabar Sadiq said that because of the OSA, civil servants are reluctant to release any information, whether it was classified or not, for fear of prosecution.

The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) head researcher Datuk Han Chee Rull said, however, that while the OSA was necessary, its mechanisms of checks and balances were questionable.


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