In conjunction with Right to Know Day recently, the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) calls upon Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak to make serious efforts toward enacting a Freedom of Information (FOI) law in keeping with his government's aim to eliminate corruption.
CIJ also urges the same of the 67 members of Parliament who have openly expressed strong support for an FOI law in a recent survey by news site The Nut Graph.
CIJ recognises that the federal government has taken some steps in addressing the overwhelming need for transparency in governance – the Whistleblower Protection Act and the Personal Data Protection Act, two laws that need to be in place with an FOI law, were passed by the Dewan Rakyat in April and are awaiting gazetting.
However, having these two laws is not enough if the federal government is seriously concerned about our Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) score, down from 5.1 in 2008 to 4.5 in 2009. Perception of corruption is strongly related to transparency.
It is in the interest of the federal government to improve Malaysia's CPI ranking by establishing a legal framework that will boost investor confidence in the country's governance.
Nearly 90 countries around the world have adopted FOI laws, most in the past 15 years. Other top economies in Southeast Asia are capitalising on the economic benefits from having an FOI law, leaving Malaysia far behind.
Thailand was the first to do so in 1997, followed by Indonesia in 2008. The Philippines are planning to re-table a stronger law in 2011 after the first attempt was rejected in June.
In Malaysia, only the Selangor state has committed to making the law, which is now awaiting public feedback before the third reading in the state assembly early next year.
More than an economic benefit, however, an FOI law embodies the right to know, a fundamental human right that is also central to democracy.
Enacting an FOI law should be on the immediate agenda of the Najib administration as proof that the slogan ‘People first, performance now’ is not mere rhetoric.
The writer is publicity officer, Centre for Independent Journalism.