“What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.”
― Thomas Paine, The American Crisis
COMMENT | Law lecturer Azmi Sharom's characterisation of the Official Secrets Act 1972 in a recent forum as “the giant mad elephant in the room” is noteworthy for a couple of reasons.
The first is that the state always wants to keep secrets from the public. Secondly, it points to the mendacity of this new regime, that yet again they are waffling on something they could easily accomplish – except that they too now understand the advantage of keeping things from the public.
Let me be very clear. In my other life, when I was part of the state security apparatus, I was involved in operations that were deemed by the then Umno/BN establishment as “secret”.
In my writing against the Umno regime, I have made it clear that I was of the opinion that there were operations carried out by the state security apparatus, sometimes working in concert with other ministries, that justified it being classified as secret.
Unlike some writers, I had no problem acknowledging that certain actions deemed illegal or immoral were necessary for the sake of the nation’s security. Many have disagreed with me, but I have not retreated from this position.
What needs protecting?
At the same forum Azmi (photo) was speaking at, DAP’s Steven Sim, who is also the deputy youth and sports minister, laid out the government’s intention to either arm or repeal the OSA and along with the latter, make specific exceptions in this new Freedom of Information bill.
I, of course, am for the latter and in my opinion, the former is just another way for this new administration to fall back into old BN habits.
Within that narrow range of exception, especially when dealing with national security, there are several issues that should be kept from the public. These include certain sensitive operations, tradecraft, confidential informants, illicit payments for information and a host of other issues that do not neatly fall into the ambit of legality, but are necessary to safeguard our nation.
As discussed, these are extremely limited exceptions. In the past, the reputation and security of the country were compromised when the former regime demonstrated that issues classified as “national secrets” were in fact secrets that were damaging to Umno. Not to mention back in the day, we were supportive of all sorts of groups, which blowback we feel now. So there is that.
So when politicians talk about freedom of information and how sometimes it needs to be protected, we should be mindful of what needs to be protected.
Sim is absolutely correct when he argues that when one cites “national security”, they should be questioned as to what exactly they want to keep from the public and how it relates to national security instead of political interests.
However, what was disappointing were Sim’s comments when it came to the question of “Asian values.” God, I really hate it when politicians talk about values. It gets even worse when they talk about “Asian” values.
I have noticed this trend when it comes to the non-Malay component of Harapan – Sim has not been the only political operative to voice out such sentiments. Rational Malaysians who care about this country should pay attention to this kind of justifications from politicians.
Sim made two points worth considering. The first is:
“It is also not fair for us to not take into consideration certain sensitivities – religious values, cultural or traditional world views – when it comes to governance, legislation and the rule of law.”
Really? Could you imagine if an Umno politician said this? Actually, you do not have to imagine. Remember when Bersatu member Rais Yatim babbled on about “our” civilisational, education and country's values, when rejecting the Harapan pledge to recognise the UEC? This is exactly the kind of considerations that only a certain segment of the population wants their leadership to take into account when it comes to governance and policy-making.
The difference here is that it is a DAP political operative promoting this line of reasoning when it comes to a particular issue – freedom of information – and the reality is that his comment could apply to any policy issues that the Harapan regime is considering...