The Defence Ministry has clarified the "confusion" over its minister purportedly stating that the contentious National Security Council (NSC) Act 2016 is being reviewed – claiming instead that he had been referring to the National Service (NS) programme.
This comes amid uproar over Mohamad Sabu stating that the government was rethinking its pledge to abolish the law, and "reshuffling" certain provisions within it instead.
To add to the confusion, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad was today reported to have said NSC Act was among several being reviewed for "possible repeal."
"We (the government) are in the midst of reviewing the effects of the laws for possible repeal, as most of the laws were restricting the people’s freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of action,” Mahathir was quoted as saying by Bernama.
Mohamad had been quoted in various media outlets – among them the Malay Mail – as saying that the NSC was a “good vehicle,” especially for civil servants, provided the government does not abuse the provisions contained within.
Abolishing the "draconian law" had been one of the promises listed in the Harapan manifesto for the general election.
Mohamad’s statement on Thursday had solicited backlash from other Harapan leaders and lawyers, who insisted that the government not renege on its promise to repeal the law.
'Confusion' in media reports
However, the Defence Ministry said that these new reports had erroneously mixed up the NSC with NS.
"We wish to refer to the confusion in media reports pertaining to the statement by the defence minister made in an interview with reporters in June 18 that the National Security Act (NSC) will be reviewed on whether it is to be retained or abolished.
"We would like to clarify that the review mentioned by the defence minister is in reference to the NS programme and not the NSC Act as reported," the statement read.
The ministry added that the cabinet would decide on the fate of NS in the nearest possible future.
On Thursday, the ministry announced that the NS programme would be subject to a full review, with Mohamad saying that its curriculum needed to be evaluated to better focus on the young.
Since its passing, the NSC Act has been panned by critics – including the Council of Rulers – over concerns that it grants the prime minister wide-reaching powers and was open to abuse for other purposes besides security.
Under the act, the council is placed under the prime minister and has the authority to declare an emergency and assume operational control over security forces at designated areas in the name of national security.
The NSC Act is among several laws Harapan had pledged to abolish, including – the Sedition Act 1948, University and University Colleges Act 1971 (UUCA), Prevention of Crime Act 1959 (Poca), Prevention of Terrorism Act 2015 (Pota), Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA) and the Anti-Fake News Act 2018 (AFN).