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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Freedom of Information Act (FOI) for Malaysia

What is a Freedom of Information Act?

According to Wikipedia, such laws define a legal process by which government information is available to the public. A basic principle behind most freedom of information legislation is that the burden of proof falls on the body asked for information, not the person asking for it. The requester does not usually have to give an explanation for their request, but if the information is not disclosed a valid reason has to be given.

How many countries have a Freedom of Information Act?

, Again, according to Wikipedia, were seventy countries around the world have implemented some form of freedom of information legislation. Many more countries are working towards introducing such laws.

Should Malaysia have a Freedom of Information Act?

The information in this section is taken from a pamphlet entitled "No More Secrets. Freedom of Information (FOI) Campaign) I obtained in a gathering Bangsa Malaysia Merdeka Get-together (click BACK button to get back to this page) I attended just hours ago at the newly opened Blogger House about which I will write more about tomorrow. Here is what the pamphlet says:

Do you know what you are breathing? What is in your water? What's really in your food and drinks? Who are getting the scholarships?

The Government, the companies making and testing products like your food, or providing you with water supply? Don't you think you should know what they're doing?

Malaysia National Coalition for a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act

Let us introduce ourselves. We are the National Coalition for a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, formed in early 2005 following from a two-day conference on FOI legislation for Malaysia and the formulation of a statement of principles endorsed by over 32 organisations. We are a loose network of civil society organisations -ranging from human right's groups to environmental organisations to women's NGO's - coming together to campaign for a legislation that allows access to information, pave the way for an end to secrecy law in Malaysia.

We think the (Malaysian) Government has too secrets. We aren't allowed to know how they spend our money, yet our taxes an petrol prices go up to subsidise them. We aren't allowed to know why our water companies are being sold, yet our taps run dry and our water stinks. We aren't allowed to know about contracts, bridges, or hospitals, yet we're expected to pay for them, even as the roads are falling apart, as the bridges are not built and the hospitals are likely to make you more sick rather than get better.

Isn't it time we had some access to some of these "secrets"?

What can you do to help?

Hold a talk on No More Secrets. Call together some friends and have a teh-tarik (boiling hot tea made cooler by repetitively pouring from a container held high into another container held lower) sessions. Contact us, the FOI coalition, through the website given below.

  1. Sign the petition. Visit the Info Cafe to sign the petition. The website is given below.

  2. Whether you are a lawyer, doctor, accountant, salesperson, clerk or home-maker, contact us. We need you and there are many things you can do to help us.

  3. Talk to local government and get them to adopt some of the ten principles in their dealings.

  4. Write letters to people you know who are doing a bad job, and ask them for information. Show up their answers (or lack of answers) on the Info Cafe website, or write to the newspapers and tell them.

  5. Come up with your own ideas, and we'll try and help you make them real.



I want to know more....

That is what this is about! For more on the FOI campaign, pop into Info Cafe for debates, articles, opinions and experiences.

You can also contact us at

Center for Independent Jornalism
29-C, Jalan Sarikei
off Jalan Pahang
53000 Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia.
(behind Tawakal Hospital)

Tel: 603-4023 0772
Fax: 603-4023 0769
Email: infocafe.cij@gmail.com

So, We're saying that....

Maximum disclosure

We would like to be told important details relating to our society. Government information should be public information. We want to have access to all information, unless there is a good reason to keep it from us. That is principle one, the principle of maximum disclosure.

Routine Publications

We want to know when we want to know, not when the Government wants to tell us. Facts about water quality, minutes of meetings, criteria fo appointing local councillors, these should always be made available. It's principle two, the principle of routine publication.

Independent Administrative Oversight Body

The Government (or any self-appointed censors) don't get to day what we want to know. Somebody who's not going to benefit from the failures or corruptions in Government should decide. This is principle 3, the principle of setting up an independent, administrative oversight body.

Open Government

Rather than hiding their mistakes, the Government should be open about their mistakes and learn from them because each mistakes costs the public dearly. There should be a move towards making as few mistakes as possibles. Principle four, the principle of open government.

Exceptions

Some things can be kept secret. This isn't about stopping the police from catching criminals, or betraying military secrets. But there should be good, tight reasons for having secrets. It should be about protecting us, not protecting corruption. Hence principle five, the principle of exception.

Keeping costs Low and processes simple

We shouldn't have to pay. This information is important for all of us to contribute to society. Costs should be kept low. We shouldn't have to spend three days filling in ten forms to find what is in the air we breathe in. See principle six, the principle of keeping costs low, processes simple.

Open meetings

We should be able to see what the government is up to. When the local government is changing plans, we want to be there. When a new factory is being approved, we want to be there. When a hill is being destroyed to build more houses, we want to be there. Meeting, whether about education or advertising billboards, should be open because these are decisions that affect us. This leads us to principle seven, the principle of open meetings.

Reviewing other legislation

There is a need to ensure that the implementation of the FOI legislation will not be impeded by existing laws. Thus principle eight. the principle of reviewing other legislations.

Protectin whistleblowers

If you expose corruption, you should be rewarded, not punished. Principle nine, the principle of protecting whistleblowers.

Reviewed regularly

Periodically check to see if the FOI legislation is still working. What's good tody might be not so good tomorrow. Think principle ten, the principle requiring the FOI law to be reviewed regularly.

Yes, but... what about privacy, you ask?

This falls under the principle of exception as mentioned above. If it is about my body, my health, any personal information about me, sorry, but you wouldn't get near them, even if the information is in the hands of the Government.

Our country's security?

Again, this falls under the principle of exceptions. When unsure if something should be kept 'secret' by the Government, use the 3-stage test. For examples

  1. Is the information about our national security?

  2. Does releasing the information harm the national security?

  3. Is there an overriding public interest for the information to be made available?


Even if the answer to the first two questions is YES, then the information should be withheld. However, and affirmative to the third question means we have a right to the information, even if it harms our national security in the short-term.

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