‘Official secrets’ should be redefined and narrowed to concern national security and people’s safety before any amendments is sought on the Official Secrets Act

by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Kit Siang, in Petaling Jaya on Tuesday, 1.4.1986:

‘Official secrets’ should be redefined and narrowed to concern national security and people’s safety before any amendments is sought on the Official Secrets Act

The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, has told the Organisation of Newspaper Editors (ONE) and the National Press Club (NPC) that the Government would look into the definition of ‘official secrets’ to clear up any confusion that may arise in the enforcement of the Official Secrets Act.

From the Prime Minister’s assurance, it seems clear that he does not intend to have any clarification at the legislative level, but merely at the administrative and enforcement level. This is completely unsatisfactory because ours is a government of laws and not a government of men, where how laws are enforces depends on the whims and fancies of leaders rather than on the clear language of the law.

Dr. Mahathir now says that the amendment bill, making in a mandatory minimum one-year jail sentences for any offender under the Act, is not directed solely at journalists, but at civil servants leaking secrets, especially those on the economy, to businessmen.

It is open knowledge that the problem of leaking government information on trade, economy and finance is not so much with civil servants, as with political leaders in Government, who made use of their position to let their relatives and close friends prior information which enabled them to take undue advantage, especially at a time when huge privatisation projects are being carried out without open tender.

In any event, if the Prime Minister is really aiming at the group of civil servants selling government secrets on government tenders to businessmen, then the Official Secret Act Amendment Bill 1986 making it mandatory minimum one-year jail sentence for any offender should be clearly spelt out and continue to this group.

The Government should give facts and figures as to how many government servants had been found to have sold government information on tenders or other economic information to give businessman unfair advantage for Malaysians to gauge the seriousness of this problem, and judge whether the OSA Amendment Bill is the right answer.

The term ‘official secrets’ cover any and every government information, and as it stands, is a threat to parliamentary democracy and press freedom. The Government should redefine and narrow the meaning of “official secrets” to concern national security and people’s safety before it brings any new amendment to the OSA to Parliament.

Members of Parliament cannot allow the government’s intention to catch government servants leaking and selling information about tenders to throw a blanket on all government information, and to prevent public spirited Malaysians from exposing corruption, abuses of power and wrongdoings in the public service.

The issues concerning the Official Secrets Act touch the very heart of government in a Parliamentary democracy, whether we want to have an open and accountable, or a closed and secretive governmet; whether we want to recognise the people’s right to freedom of information, which is a pre-condition to meaningful democracy, or we want to travel in the opposite direction towards a total clamp-up of free flow of information subject to the strirt regulation of the government.

For this reason, the DAP calls on the Government to establish a Parliamentary Select Committee to review the whole operation of the Official Secrets Act, it implications and repercussions on the functioning of a meaningful parliamentary democracy.

National Integration Committee should present a special urgent report to Cabinet as to how the Federal Government’s handling of Sabah crisis is undermining national integration

The Chairman of the National Integration Committee, Datuk Rais Yatim, said the main task of the committee will be to promote integration between Sabah, Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia.

If the Committee is serious about this objective then it should present a special and urgent report to the Cabinet as to how the Federal Government’s handling of the Sabah political crisis is undermining national integration by driving Sabahans further away from Kuala Lumpur.

The National Integration Committee should impress on the Cabinet that national integration should be carried out to unite Malaysians of all races, religious and regions regardless of their political affiliation and support. All the plans and proposals of the National Integration Committee could be destroyed if the people of Sabah for instance, perceive the Federal Government as unfair and oppressive, refusing to uphold law and order to bring the political leaders and those involved in the 10-day demonstrations, bomb blasts, arson and rioting to justice.

Furthermore, the refusal to date of the Federal Government to take firm action to repatriate the 300,000 Filipinos in Sabah although they had been involved in the spate of demonstrations, bomb blasts, arson and rioting, is another factor underming Sabah confidence in Kuala Lumpur.