Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General, MP for Tanjung and Assemblyman for Kampong Kolam, Lim Kit Siang, at the DAP Public Forum on the Official Secrets Act held at Kristal BallRoom, Hotel Petaling Jaya Hilton, Petaling Jaya on Sunday, 9th November 1986 at 2.30 p.m.
OSA Amendment Bill 1986 is a critical assault on five crucial areas of Malaysian life: Parliamentary democracy, Freedom of the Press, Independence of the Judiciary, Responsible and Accountable Government, and Corruption-Free Malaysia
The 1986 Official Secrets Act (Amendment) Bill is a short Bill with eight clauses, but never had the basic institutions of Malaysia been so critically threatened before than by this eight-clause OSA Amendment Bill. It represent a very serious assault on at least five crucial areas of Malaysian life: Parliamentary democracy, Freedom of the Press, Independence of the Judiciary, Responsible and Accountable Government, and Corruption-Free Malaysia.
The OSA Amendment Bill is the most dangerous and pernicious legislative proposal since the recent general elections, and in fact, the most dangerous and pernicious legislation ever proposed by the Government of Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed. It not only dishonoured the Barisan Nasional’s 1986 general elections pledge of open government and a “liberal and tolerant society”, it represented a full repudiation of the aM slogan of a “clean, efficient and trustworthy “.. government when Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed and Datuk Musa Hitam first came to power in July 1981!
Datuk Musa Hitam has publicly expressed reservations about the OSA Amendment Bill and the need for a second look at the Bill through the broadest and fullest public discussion. This gives rise to the legitimate question as to whether Datuk Musa Hitam, if he remained as Deputy Prime Minister, would have acted as a restraining force against such undemocratic and authoritarian tendencies, and why there is nobody in the Cabinet who could play such a restraining role – and in particular, Anwar Ibrahim, with his well-known public commitment to democracy and freedom in his ABIM days.
If the OSA Amendment Bill, with its mandatory minimum one-year jail sentence for any OSA offence and the unlimited definition of ‘official secret’, becomes law Malaysia will have the international notoriety as the only country in the Commonwealth Parliamentary world having the most undemocratic, draconian and pernicious Official Secrets Act when other Parliamentary systems are moving in the opposite direction to assure freer flow of information for- their citizenry.
In this case, Malaysia might as well pull out of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, instead of sending delegations to all CPA meetings and conferences when we have decided in spirit and substance to muzzle Parliament and stifle democracy in Malaysia.
So far, no one in Government has been able to give any good reason why the government and country needs such a draconian OSA Amendment Bill, only the assurance from the Attorney-General, Tan Sri Abu Talib, that it would not be abused. Malaysians have seen how other draconian laws, like the Internal Security Act and the Essential Security Cases Regulations had been abused, to the extent that a 14-year-old was nearly sent to the gallows if not for a nation-wide outcry.
The assurances of the Attorney-General carries little weight when he is not answerable to Parliament and cannot directly be held to public accountability, I see the OSA Amendment Bill on mandatory minimum one-year jail sentence provision as part of the vindictive side of the Attorney-General, for from his television interview on the OSA sometime in May this year, it is clear that it still rankled him that in my Official Secrets Act trial, my fines were reduced by the Federal Court so as not to entail my disqualification as Member of Parliament .
The OSA (Amendment) Bill 1986 will further truncate parliamentary democracy by denying MPs the/flow of. information necessary to keep the /free Executive to account. I believe that my various sources of information which has enabled me to expose the various malpractices, wrongdoings and breaches of trust and abuse of power in government would dry up with the passage of the OSA Amendment Bill. If USA Amendment Bill had been law, the people would have known nothing about the BMF, EPF UMBC Makuwasa, Maminco, Co-operative Finance scandals. While government information on national defence or security secrets or other vital information should be protected by the criminal law, why should information which would cause barrassment to the government of the day because of the expose of government wrongdoings be similarly protected?
Information is power, and in denying Parliament and the people free acces ‘to government information the Government is directly attacking the very basis of a democratic system and society.
The principle of responsibility of the government to the Parliament and the electorate is the basis of popular control over the direction of government and the destiny of the nation, and in undermining this basis, the USA Amendment Bill qualifies as the most anti people and undemocratic legislation in the country.
The Malaysian Press, which had not distinguished itself in investigative journalism, would be turned into mere government gazettes, with enterprising and conscientious journalists avoiding all inquiry and probe which could lend them in the prisons for a year.
Openness, accountability and responsibility of the government will become outmoded in .Malaysia, and corruption in public life will be given a new lease of life.
The OSA Amendment Bill usurps the powers of Parliament in vesting in the Minister concerned the power to enlarge the definition of ‘official secrets’, without any reference back to Parliament. It also usurps the powers of the Judiciary in depriving from the judges their discretionary power to pass sentences according to the circumstances.
Thus a person who exposes government secrets to stop corruption is equally culpable and liable to one-year jail sentence as a spy or traitor who sells government secrets for mercenary gain or disloyalty.
The growing distrust of the judges by the Executive and the Attorney-General is one of the most disturbing aspects of the OSA Amendment P111, as it has undermined the doctrine of separation of powers between the Legislature, Executive ,and Judiciary to provide the necessary checks and balances for a functioning democracy.
There are two countries in the world where the publication of statistics is a crime, and Malaysia may soon be joining the esoteric and exclusive group, one of which is Kampuchea.
Call on Barisan Nasional leaders and MRS to oppose the OSA Amendment Bill
In the Barisan Nasional, So far the Parti Bersatu Sabah has taken the clearest public stand against the OSA Amendment Bill, with Gerakan adopting an ambiguous position with Dr,Lim Keng Yaik; the Gerakan President, saying that he accepts the Cabinet position as a Member of Cabinet, while supporting the Gerakan Central Committee’s stand as Gerakan President. He is running with the hare and hunting with the hound,.
The MCA Wanita and some MCA branches have voiced opposition to the OSA, although Datuk Lee Kim Sai, under attack by the 46 UMNO MPs for the Selangor MCA Resolution, have bent over backwards to declare unqualified support for the OSA Amendment Bill.
I believe that given a free choice, the overwhelming majority of Barisan MPs from all the component parties would not have supported the USA Amendment Bill, for there is no justification whatsoever for such draconian attacks on the people’s democratic rights in the country.
I would call on Barisan Nasional leaders, MPs and branches to take a courageous stand against the USA Amendment Bill, and to realise that at times it is more interest rather than party interest important to decide in the national.
This process of getting Barisan leaders and MPs to listen to their own conscience could be helped by a nation-wide mobilization of public opinion, demanding the withdrawal of the OSA Amendment Bill,
What Malaysia needs is a freedom of information legislation to entrench the people’s right to information to enable them to hold the government to account, rather than a blanket protection ‘
to hide all government information.
A government which is prepared to propose the enactment of such draconian and pernicious legislation to erode the democratic rights of the people can have no claim to commitment to democracy.
Malaysian politics will be healthier if there are courageous and conscientious Ministers who are prepared to give up their Ministerial offices, perks and allowances on important
issues of principle, Are there any Ministers who will resign over the OSA Amendment Bill, or is everyone more interested in preserving their Ministerial office?
All Malaysians, whether individual or organisation, must join in a national campaign for freedom of information between now and Dec. 5 or 8, when the OSA Amendment Bill is presented for second and third reading in Parliament, to make the Government aware of the magnitude of public opposition to the Bill, for we are fighting literally for our very democratic right and existence.