Barisan MPs should call for the withdrawal of the government whip over the OSA Amendment Bill

by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General, MP for Tanjung and Assemblyman for Kampong Kolam, Lim Kit Siang, in Petaling Jaya on Saturday, 22nd Nov. 1986:

Barisan MPs should call for the withdrawal of the government whip over the OSA Amendment Bill

The Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, said in Malacca yesterday that the government will not withdraw the Official Secrets (Amendment) Bill or refer it to a Parliamentary Select Committee.

Dr. Mahathir has not given any sound or cogent reason for this open disregard of nation-wide call for deeper study of the proposed Bill before making it into law next month.

In fact the government seems to have given up the attempt to win the hearts and minds of Malaysians on the need for the Bill, and is going on the basis that government knows what is best for the people.

Dr. Mahathir said: “It seems to me that those who are opposed to the OSA will be opposed to it no matter what we do. They never bother to study it or ask for any explanation.”

It is the Cabinet Ministers who are guilty of not giving the Bill the through study it deserves. This was why when public pressure mounted against the Bill and Ministers found that they could not cope with the arguments of the critics and opponents of the bill, they had to ask for a special briefing from the Attorney General’s Chambers.

The Prime Minister is also incorrect when he said that “the opponents of the Bill never bother to study it or ask for any explanation.”
I myself have written to the Prime Minister to meet him over the OSA Bill. I do not think any Bill in Malaysian history has received such intensive and thorough study by so many Malaysian individuals and organizations as the OSA Amendment Bill and it is the government that has lagged behind in matching up to the arguments and reasons for the enactment of the bill.

I am particularly shocked by Dr. Mahathir’s answer to my challenge to him to justify his statement earlier in the week that the definition of ‘official secrets’ under the existing law is more extensive than in the proposed Bill. I had asked the Prime Minister to list the instances and areas to justify this claim. He avoided the challenge by making the irrelevant remark “as a lawyer, he knows better.” The Prime Minister should not make the claim that the definition of “official secrets” is less extensive than in the present law if he cannot back his claims. He must have been informed by the Attorney General, Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman, on this and I challenge Tan Sri Abu Talib to substantiate this claim on behalf of the Prime Minister.

In declaring that the government has no intention to withdraw the Bill or refer it to a Select Committee, the Prime Minister is making a mockery of the assurance given by the Deputy Prime Minister, Ghaffar Baba, that the government will study the views of all parties on the Bill which could only be done by a Parliamentary Select Committee.

It also makes nonsense of the statement by Gerakan President and Minister of Primary Industry, Datuk Dr. Lim Keng Yaik, that the government would consider making some changes to the Bill in view of the objections by various groups. This is probably why Dr. Lim Keng Yaik is leaving the country this two weeks purportedly to lead government missions to Korea and China so that the OSA (Amendment) Bill will be put on the statute book in his absence.

Furthermore, it renders Monday’s meeting of the Barisan MPs quite meaningless. The Malaysian public have been made to understand that the Barisan MPs will be speaking out and raising he objections of NUJ, Bar Council and other bodies to the bill. But with the Prime Minister’s declared stand, the Monday’s meeting is for Dr. Mahathir to lay down the law for Barisan MPs on the bill.

I call on Barisan MPs to courageously reflect public opinion and opposition to be the Bill in their meeting with the Prime Minister on Monday and ask for the referred to a Parliamentary Select Committee.

If the Prime Minister does not agree, then they should insist that the government whip be withdrawn and government MPs be allowed to vote according to their own conscience and what they perceive to be in the higher national interest. Barisan MPs should bear in mind that for the first time in history, two former Prime Ministers, Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Hussien Onn, and one former Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Musa Hitam, have publicly criticized the Bill and asking for it to be referred to a Select Committee.

This is the Bill which Barisan MPs must take a stand in the national interest even if it means breaking party discipline for there will be no greater fulfillment of their oath as MPs to defend the Constitution than to take a stand to oppose the Bill which will make Article 10(1)(a) on Freedom of Speech and Expression void and meaningless.