by Ketua Pembangkang and DAP Secretary-General, Lim Kit Siang, in Parliament House on Tuesday, Dec. 2, 1996:
DAP calls for the deferment of the second reading debate of the OSA Amendment Bill until next parliamentary meeting in March to allow fullest public discussion of the question of freedom of information in Malaysia.
The minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Ajib Ahmad, has tabled a new Official Secret Act Amendment Bill withdrawing the one tabled at the end of October.
The main changes are firstly, the reduction of seven to three categories of documents which are automatically ‘official secret’ under the Schedules, eliminating documents concerning relations between Federal and States; in the nature of or relating to opinion, advice or recommendation concerning, the operation and functions of the government; concerning national economy such as relating to currency, budget proposals and foreign investment; and concerning tenders in resoect of any official oyrchase, or requisition for works, supplies, services and projects.
Secondly, the restriction of “any member of the administration or a public officer” in the October 1986 Bill to any public officer appointed by a certificate by a Minister, Mentri Besar or Chief Minister” with powers to classify documents as ‘Top Secret’, ‘Secret’, ‘Confidential’ or ‘Restricted’.
Thirdly, a new provision to provide that it is a defence in any prosecution for a public officer if anything done is in the performance of his official duties or with proper authority.
Then amendments presented in the new OSA Amendment Bill tabled today has not materially removed the draconian, oppressive and pernicious effects of the Original Bill.
This is because the three most obnoxious and repugnant features of the Bill have remained intact.
Firstly, the mandatory minimum one year jail sentence for any offence under the Official Secret Act is not removed Criminal law and sanctions should only apply where national security is jeopardised, and not just because there is a leakage of government information. There are many other acts like corruption which are more serious than leakage of government information, and yet corruption does not attract a mandatory minimum one-year jail sentence although it can become a greater threat to Malaysia than leakage of government information.
Secondly, the exclusion of judicial discretion of judges to sentence according to circumstances and motivation of offender. If xxxx The provision of mandatory minimum one year jail sentence is an open declaration of no confidence of the Executive in the Judiciary, which gravely undermines the doctrine of the separation of powers among the Executive, Judiciary and Parliament.
Thirdly, the reduction of seven categories in the Schedule to three categories does not mean that the four eliminated categories are no more ‘official secret’, as they could be brought within its scope either by the classification of the Minister or appointed public officer, or through the Minister adding to the Schedule after the enactment of the Bill.
I welcome however the preparedness of the Prime Minster to listen to public objections, which do not stem from any willfulness or destructiveness, but from the equally honourable reasons of love for nation and democracy.
I would urge Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir to do what he has not done yet, which is to meet all groups which are opposed to the OSA Amendment Bill for a dialogue, for we must concede that no one has a monopoly of knowledge, truth or patriotism, and in keeping with the spirit of democracy we practice, our critics and opponents may have valid points of view which had been overlooked.
I had written to the Prime Minister earlier last month for a meeting with him on the Official Secrets Act Amendment Bill.
I would propose that the second reading for the OSA Amendment Bill bee defend to the next parliamentary meeting in March 1987, to allow the fullest public public discussion of the question of freedom of information in Malaysia.
It would do the Malaysian political climate great good if all sides can avoid the confrontationist attitude, and are prepared to sit down to discuss common national issues and problems.
Freedom of information is xx the cornerstone of democracy, without which all other human rights and freedoms of a democratic system lose all meeting. I am sure a four-month deferment of the second reading debate of the OSA Bill will not in anyway damage the country, especially as the Barisan Nasional Government could defer the Amendment Bill for eight months since it first introduced the Bill in March this year.
The government should also further consider amending the new section 17A providing a defence for public officers if anything done is in the performance of his official duties or with proper authority, to include Members of Parliament and State Assemblymen, who are carrying out their Constitutional duties to represent the electorate xxx and people of Malaysia.
In fact, the whole Schedule should be deleted from the Bill, in accordance with the right of freedom of information.