COMMENT | Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has claimed that the Official Secrets Act (OSA) may not be perfect and that it is more important to respect the rule of law to avoid legal abuse.
I agree that the rule of law supersedes everything else. Since Pakatan Harapan wishes to preserve the evil act that restricts freedom of speech and the press, the ruling coalition must then prove through its actions that it will not abuse it, but act in accordance with the law.
The prime minister’s argument is inconsistent with Harapan’s previous stand on revising the OSA and to enact a Freedom of Information Act. Lim Kit Siang had once said that OSA symbolises the death of freedom of speech and accountability.
He added that the act must be abolished so that the country does not become an autocracy.
Deputy Health Minister Lee Boon Chye also said that corruption can only be nipped with the abolition of this act.
Having uttered all of the above rhetoric, yet now retaining the act instead, does this not mean it is disregarding the freedom of speech, accountability and eradicating corruption?
Regardless whether the OSA is kept or replaced with new legislation, the present government has much to prove that it intends to respect the rule of law and the spirit of freedom and openness.
However, recently the Harapan government has shown that it is merely paying lip service to respect the rule of law.
The Harapan government did not produce any evidence to show that the appointment of the Dewan Rakyat speaker adhered to the parliamentary convention.
The finance minister claimed that the cabinet had decided on July 11, 2018, that MPs will not be appointed to the board of government-linked companies (GLCs) or Investment Sovereignty Fund.
Yet, Mahathir had on July 31, 2018, helmed the Khazanah Nasional, which violated the decision of the highest administration. Obviously, these two contradictory actions did not take violation of rule of law seriously.
The Harapan government must walk the talk. If it cannot ditch the suspicions of not acting in accordance with the rule of law, the people will not be convinced that the OSA will not be subject to abuse, nor become the "mask to cover up government malpractice".
If the OSA is to be replaced by a Freedom of Information Act, it should not refer to the related legislation in Penang. It is difficult to obtain information as there are many restrictions imposed such as a statutory oath, no public declaration, etc, which does not conform to the spirit of accountability and the pursuit of truth.
On the contrary, the FOI can refer to the version in Selangor. In particular, it is illegal to prevent the public from obtaining information.
In short, if people do agree to retain the OSA, the government must demonstrate its determination to respect the rule of law, clearly explain the past two violations, and amend the more restrictive provisions, allowing any case with public interest and safety regulations in mind.
Then only are the relevant documents not subject to any restrictions in law and can be reviewed unconditionally by the public.
WEE KA SIONG is the MP for Ayer Hitam.
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