Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General and MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Kit Siang, at the public protest meeting organised by the Penang DAP Oppose Official Secrets Act Amendment Committee (Penang DAP OOSAA Committee) held at Penang Free School Old Boys’ Association in Penang on Tuesday, April 1, 1986 at 9 pm
DAP will support the 1986 Official Secrets Act Amendment Bill if the Official Secrets Act is confined to ospionage and spying cases
The Official Secrets Act Amendment Bill 1986 raises the fundamental question whether criminal law should be used to protect Government, Ministers or officials from embarrassment in any exposure about their abuse of power, malpractice, wrongdoing or even sheer stupidity, in the discharge of their public duties.
This is what the OSA Amendment Bill will do – in fact, it will make it a mandatory minimum one-year jail sentence for anyone, whether journalist, political leader, Member of Parliament, or a public-spirited citizen, for telling all and sundry that the Government had tendered for instant mee at $4.90 per packet when the market price is only 14 cents, or for exposing in public torture and brutality against inmates in detention centres.
Malaysians must reject entirely the use of criminal sanctions for trampling on the right of Malaysians to information, for this tantamount to stifling parliamentary democracy in Malaysia.
The DAP concedes that there is need for the nation to protect official information pertaining to national security and the safety of the people, and the DAP will support the 1986 Official Secrets Act Amendment Bill if the Official Secrets Act is confined to espionage and spying cases, and related matters affecting national security.
This can easily be done by a further amendment in the 1986 Official Secrets Act Amendment Bill providing that for an offence under the OSA to be proved, the prosecution must establish that the disclosure was prejudicial to national security and national interest.
When debating the OSA Amendment Bill, all MPs must make a clear distinction between the interests of the nation and the interest of the Government which should be protected. It does not always follow that these two interests coincide.
In President Nixon’s Watergate days, it was clearly in the interest of the nation to expose the whole scandal to public light, although it was against the interest of the Government.
Similarly, the Official Secrets Act and its proposed amendment will protect government interest at the dxpense of the national interest, for it will provide a total clamp on all information unless authorised to be made public. It stands to reason that the Government would not want information which would expose its corruption, negligence, abuse of power, wrongdoing although this will clearly be in the national interest.
I call on all Members of Parliament, in particular from Barisan Nasional, to be guided by their own conscience and the nation’s commitment to democracy and freedom by standing ip to speak and vote against the OSA Amendment Bill.
Amy MP who vote in support of the OSA Amendment Bill is in fact the greatest threat to democracy and freedom in Malaysia, for the Government could only propose the Bill, but it is the MPs who must enact them into law. Every individual MP who voted for the OSA Amendment Bill must be held personally responsible by all Malaysians for having struck a grave blow against the system of parliamentary democracy in Malaysia.
I find the Prime Minister’s reasoning for the OSA amendment, to aim at civil servants leaking secrets of tender or other economic information to businessmen, most unconvincing.
If the government is seriously concerned about this problem, why hasn’t a single civil servant been arrested and prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act? If not a single Civil servant had been arrested and prosecuted, how would the Prime Minister say that existing OSA is ineffective?
The proposed Bill to remove the discretionary power of judges to pass sentences, whether fine or jail, is a serious and unwarranted attack on the Judiciary. It reflects the Executive’s lack of confidence in our judges exercising their discretion to fix the sentence according to the gravity of the offence.
This is all the more serious when we note that the OSA was based on the UK Official Secrets Act 1911. After 75 years of operation, the British Government had continued to rely on judges to decide whether a fine or jail sentence should be passed on an offender, but in Malaysia, after 14 years and only five ‘offenders’, there is now the proposal to remove the judges’ discretion in passing sentence. Regardless of gravity of offence, and motive (whether to spy and sell secrets to enemies of the country or to protect public interest by exposing corruption and wrongdoing) judges have to pass a mandatory one-year minimum jail sentence.
The lawyers and judges in Malaysia should show resinous concern at the growing encroachment of the position and rights of the Judiciary by the Executive. This is an unhealthy tendency, and must be stopped before the Executive fully usurps the powers and constitutional functions of the Judiciary.