Speech by Parliamentary Opposition Leader, DAP Secretary-General MP for Tanjung and Assemblyman for Kampong Kolam, Lim Kit Siang, in the Dewan Rakyat on Friday, 5.12.1986 on the Official Secrets Act Amendment Bill.
In bulldozing the OSA Amendment Bill in the teeth of widespread public opposition, Parliament has become the biggest threat, subverter and enemy of fundamental rights, democracy and Constitution of Malaysia
Members of Parliament of the Seventh Parliament elected into office on August 3, 1986 are gathered here today to dishonour the oath they took only two months ago, on Oct. 6, 1986.
Malaysian MPs have either very short memory or the oaths they take count for nothing at all.
Let me remind MPs of the solemn oath that they had taken to “faithfully discharge my duties as such to the best of my ability, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to Malaysia, and will preserve, protect and defend its Constitution.”
Let all MPs search their conscience and ask themselves the following three questions:
Are we discharging our duties to the vest of our ability when we dare not stand up to speak up even vote against the draconian, undemocratic and repugnant OSA Amendment Bill, although in privacy we agree that there is no justification for the enactment of such a Bill?
Are we bearing true faith and allegiance to Malaysia, dedicated the Rukunegara objective of a united, of the OSA Amendment Bill will usher in a new authoritarianism in Malaysia?
Are we preserving, protecting and defending the Malaysian Constitution when the OSA Amendment Bill, to borrow the words of the Chief Justice of Malaysia, Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Omar, will render the principle of freedom of speech as enshrined in the Federal Constitution ‘meaningless’ as a result of ‘excessive encroachments, interventions or restraints?
If Parliament bulldozes through the Official Secrets Act Amendment bill in the teeth of widespread public opposition, Parliament would have become the biggest threat, subverter and enemy of fundamental rights, democracy and the Constitution of Malaysia.
The 1986 OSA Amendment Bill is a short Bill, but never had the basic institutions of Malaysia and the corner-stones of democracy been so critically threatened in Malaysian history since Merdeka 30 years ago than by this nine-clause, third edition of OSA Amendment Bill tabled on Tuesday. I will explain later in my speech why the third version of the OSA Amendment Bill is no different from its two predecessors, keeping intact the draconian, repugnant and obnoxious features.
The OSA Amendment Bill represents the total repudiation of the Barisan Nasional election pledge to be the ‘Pembela Rakyat’ and the commitment of the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, when he first became Prime Minister in July 1981, to work for a ‘clean, efficient and trustworthy’ as well as an ‘open and liberal’ government.
The OSA Amendment Bill mount an unprecedented assault on the following crucial institutions and principles, namely Parliament and the Judiciary by the usurpation of their powers by the concentration of power in the Executive, attacking the doctrine of the Separation of Powers; the freedom of the press; the Constitutional guarantees of fundamental liberties; the ideal and system of democracy; the principle of a open, responsible and accountable government; public integrity, morality and corruption-free Malaysia.
Government leaders are wont to declare that Malaysians must liberate ourselves from the colonial ‘fetters’, and even to Look East. But in deed put more chains on Malaysians, regarding colonial laws as the gospel Official Secrets Act is modeled on the British Official Secrets Act which was enacted 75 years ago in 1911, and we still allow ourselves to be dedicated by the ghost of our former colonial masters.
In the United Kingdom and other parliamentary systems, the trend is towards greater liberalization and freer flow of information, but in Malaysia, we are doing the reverse, trying to enslave Malaysians by a draconian Official Secret Act which must warm the hearts of the most supercilious colonialist. As an independent, sovereign and democratic nation, we should democratize our laws and society, and not try to out-colonialise the worst colonialists, by perfecting colonial laws into a more monstrous engine of oppression and repression.
In passing the OSA Amendment Bill, we cannot boast of being better, freer and more democratic than the colonialists, but worse, for even in the darkest days of the colonial times, they do not have an Official Secrets Act which provides for a one-year mandatory minimum one-year jail sentence for any offence under the Act. Let us remember that the Official Secrets Act 1972 is a consolidation of the Official Secrets Ordinance 1950 and the Sabah and Sarawak counterparts.
I challenge the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, to name a single country which professes parliamentary democracy which has such a draconian law which we propose to have, where there is a mandatory minimum one-year jail sentence for disclosure of official information which is unrelated to espionage or spies?
I am sure the Prime Minster cannot name any such other country. Why are we thirsting for such international notoriety to qualify to enter the Guinness Book of Records as the only country in the Commonwealth Parliamentary world with the most undemocratic, draconian and pernicious Official Secrets Act?
There are multiple objections to the Official Secrets Act Amendment Bill, and I will deal with them one by one.
First Objection: Denial of Constitution guarantee of Freedom of Speech and Expression
The OSA Amendment Bill is a gross denial and violation of Article 10(1)(a) on the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed in the Malaysian Constitution.
Knowledge is power and freedom of information has been described as the mother of the freedom of speech and expression, for the simple reason that without information, the right of freedom of speech and expression has no meaning. Deputy Prime Minister. Ghaffar Baba, had said last month that the people are free to criticise the government, but they cannot leak government secrets.
The people cannot exercise their right to criticise or speech in a vaccuum denied of information, data and facts. If there are Ministers and MPs who do not understand that the denial of freedom of information tantamount to a direct denial of the freedom of speech and expression, then the person concerned is not fit to be a Minister or MP. I do not think our Ministers and MPs are so shallow or obtuse. It is precisely because they understand this equation between freedom of information and freedom of speech that the attempt is made to give a blanket ban on government information.
In this connection, let me state the obvious. The DAP fully supports legislation to deal with spies, traitors and others who sell secrets prejudicial to the defence, security and economic well-being of Malaysia, either because of mercenary gain or out of disloyalty to Malaysia.
But what we are discussing today, and objecting strenuously, is not this category of information, but the general run of government information whose revelation would not compromise national security, defence or economic well-being, but merely embarrass the government of the day in highlighting the ineptitude, incompetence, misjudgement, wrongdoing, or corrupt practice of Ministers, politicial leaders or public servants. Why should this category of government information be protected by the criminal law and criminal sanctions of mandatory minimum one-year jail sentence.
The Attorney-General, Tan Sri Abu Talib Othman, in the New Straits Times today argued that the one-year mandatory jail sentence for offences under the OSA was introduced because the definition of ‘official secret’ has become “more restrictive”. He said that the government has restricted the classification of “official secrets” to three groups in the schedule to the Bill, and hence “the need to bring about an appropriate sentence for disclosure or use of such information and documents.”
Tan Sri Abu Talib is being dishonest and downright misleading in his explanation and justification for the mandatory one-year jail sentence. Firstly, I want to put the record straight that the mandatory one-year minimum jail sentence was introduced, not because of the restriction of ‘official secret’ classification, but because the Attorney-General was unhappy that he was unable to secure a jail sentence against the five persons charged and convicted under the Official Secrets Act so far, in particularly his inability to get me jailed under the OSA and have me disqualified as an elected Member of Parliament.
The Attorney-General appeared on television interview over Hal Elwal Semasa in May this year, and it is very clear from the interview that is still rankled him that in my Official Secrets Act trial on five charges in 1978 my times which would have disqualified me as a Member of Parliament, and even removed my right to vote for five years, was reduced by the Federal Court below the disqualifying fine of $2,000.
Clearly, in my case, he would have wanted to see me sentenced to a minimum of five years’ jail for the five charges, although I had tried to perform a public duty to draw attention to the excessive expenditure involved in the purchase of four Swedish-made SPICA-M fast-strike craft at $157 million, involving a net saving of $9 million.
The proposal for mandatory minimum one-year jail sentence was presented in the first version of the OSA Amendment Bill 1986 in March, where there was no so-called ‘restriction’ of the classification of ‘official secret’.
This background shoots down the Attorney-General’s concentration that the mandatory minimum one-year jail sentence is necessary because of more ‘restrictive’ classification of ‘official secret’. The converse is the case, in order to justify its mandatory minimum one-year jail sentence. The Attorney-General and the Government had tried to appease public opposition by giving a seemingly more ‘restrictive’ classification of ‘official secret’.
In actual fact, the so-called ‘More restrictive’ classification of ‘official secret’ in the third version of the Bill now before the House is illusory.
Firstly, the Attorney-General is again misleading the public when he claimed that ‘official secret’ has been restricted to three groups in the Schedule in the Bill. This is because under Section2 of the amended Act, it is clear that apart from the ‘Scheduled official secret’, any other government information which is outside the Schedule and classified as ‘Top Secret’, ‘Secret’, ‘Confidential’ or ‘Restricted’ by a Minister, the Mentri Besar or Chief Minister or such public officer authorised to do so, also become ‘official secret’, I will not be surprised if the ‘Official Secret’ in the unscheduled category exceeds many times the ‘Scheduled Secrets’.
Furthermore, an ‘unscheduled secret’ can easily become a ‘scheduled secret’ by the simple act of the Minister invoking the powers in the new Section 2A, which empowers him to add on, delete from or amend any of the provisions of the Schedule by mere Gazette notification.
With Section 2A, the elimination of the four earlier groups in the Schedule could be restored by a simple gazette notification, without having to seek approval of the Parliament, which is a gross usurpation of the powers of Parliament, which I will deal later.
The DAP also finds to objection to the three remaining groups in the Schedule, which automatically makes the documents ‘official secret’, namely:
“Cabinet documents, records of decisions and deliberations including those of Cabinet committees;
“State Executive Council documents, records of decisions and deliberations including those of State Executive Council committees;
“Documents concerning national security, defence and international relations.”
As an example, why should all documents concerning defence, national security and international relations ipso facto be declared ‘official secret’?
Only disclosure of information, which will prejudice or injure national security, defence and international relations are entitled to protection in democracy. Information about questionable defence purchases, where corruption or malpractices are involved, should not be allowed to find cover and protection under the Official Secret Act.
My own case under the official Secrets Act is a good example. Can the Attorney-General or the Prime Minister produce a single evidence to show that my revelations about the purchase of the four SPICA-M fast strike craft would or had prejudiced national security and defence of Malaysia?
The Federal Court, in hearing the appeal in my case, Public Prosecutor v. Lim Kit Siang, had this to say:
“We do not hide from ourselves that fact that the details of the fire control system and of the engines installed in and the capability of the craft are of possible utility to an enemy which seeks to destroy our naval defence and if such information had tended to endanger or had the effect of imperiling the security of the country, we would have interfered by substituting a sentence of imprisonment for any fine that might have been imposed. But one has to be realistic and see the case in its correct perspective and in the context of prevailing conditions. We could not but wonder whether the details provided in calling for tenders for the guns, missiles and launchers, available to anyone who applied for a tender form, had not largely removed the veil of secrecy from the ships’ armaments. Also no one has suggested in any way that the information in the charges was useful to such enemies as this country has at the moment or in the foreseeable future. Neither has anyone submitted that the real intention or the effect of such revelations was to benefits the enemy or endanger the security of the country. This is particularly true of the disclosure of the tender exercise and the financial provisions of the final contract.”
To give a blanket cover to all information relating to defence, national security and international relations which would not injure or prejudice their interests is to give a blanket cover to corruption, irresponsibility and wrongdoing.
In fact, with this attitude, Ministers and Deputy Ministers will be emboldened to come to Parliament to dismiss queries or probes of MPs in areas within the jurisdiction of the Defence and Foreign Ministry on the ground of the Scheduled Secrets!
We are opposed to a blanket and unqualified ban on Cabinet documents, records of decisions and deliberations including those of Cabinet committees. The recent controversy over the origins of Maminco and the 1981 London mysterious tin-buying operation is a good case in point.
There is now dispute whether the Maminco operation, which ended disastrously with the country losing $660 million, started in 1980 or 1981, Two Ministers, the Priminary Industry Minister, Dr. Lim Keng Yaik and the Deputy Finance Minister, Datuk Sabarrudin Cik, had given conflicting versions about the origins of the $2 company Maminco in response to repeated DAP probes.
Tun Hussein Onn had written to Government for the Cabinet meeting minutes of July 8, 1981 where he allegedly presided over a meeting approving the Maminco operation, and I had also written to the Prime Minister for access of information to the Cabinet meeting minutes as well as the agreement concluded between Maminco and Marc Rich on June 25, 1981 to ascertain the truth about the Maminco mysterious tin-buying operation.
Should the present Cabinet Minister or Deputy Ministers he allowed to hide behind the excuse of Scheduled secrets to feed half-truths and misinformation to the public, where the public has not avenues to get to the real truth? Such a system is surely the very antithesis of an open, responsible and accountable Government!
Second Objection: Usurpation of the Powers and Functions of Parliament
The second fundamental objection to the OSA Amendment Bill is that it undermines the doctrine of the Separation of Powers by usurping the powers and functions of Parliament,
This is achieved by encroaching on the legislative powers of Parliament, by new Section 2A, which reads:
“The Minister may, from time to time, by order published in the Gazette, add to, delete from, or amend any of the provisions of the Schedule hereto.”
With this section, much of the present argument over what should or should not be in the Schedule is highly academic, for the government can make any concessions, knowing that after the Bill is passed into law, what it had omitted could be easily reinstated, including other categories not listed before.
In fact, the Government could even agree to the elimination of the remaining three groups in the Schedule, for it has the power to fill in the Schedule after the enactment of the Bill!
No MP who has a sense of self-respect could agree to legislate away their parliamentary responsibilities and duties, This is not very different from enacting a section in the Official Secrets Act empowering the Executive to “add to, delete from and amend” any section of the Official Secrets Act by way of gazette as it deems fit!
With Section 2A, Parliament will be further diminished in power, responsibility, function and it is indeed a sad and sorry day for the Malaysian Parliament where MPs are merrily committing hara kiri to hand over more and more of their powers, responsibilities and functions to the Executive.
I want to remind MPs, including those from the Barisan, that they are elected to uphold the principle of supremacy of Parliament and the sovereignty of the will of the people. They would be failing in their duty to the people and the nation if they become a willing party to the usurpation of their powers by the Executive, for they would be betraying the trust of the people and Constitution.
All MPs, regardless of party affiliation, should object and oppose Section 2A of the Act, or ensure that such exercise of Ministerial powers are subject to the review of Parliament. My colleague, Sdr. Karpal Singh, MP for Jelutong, had proposed an amendment that the Minister’s gazette notification to add to the Schedule must be subject to affirmative motion of the House. If Barisan Nasional are not courageous enough to vote out the proposed new Section 2A, then they must be prepared to support the amendment to new Section 2A to ensure Parliamentary powers are not ousted by the Executive.
Third Objection: Usurpation of the Powers of the Judiciary
The third fundamental objection to the OSA Amendment Bill is its attack on the doctrine of the separation of powers to provide the necessary checks and balances in a democratic society, by usurping the powers of the Judiciary and threatening the principle of the Independence of the Judiciary.
I am very concerned that there appears to be a growing distrust of the Judiciary by the Executive, as reflected in the Prime Minister’s interview with Time magazine on Now. 24, 1986:
“The judiciary says (to us) “Although you passed a law with a certain thing in mind, we think that your mind is wrong, and we want to give our interpretation.” If we disagree, the courts will say, “We will interpret your disagreement.” If we go along, we are going to lose our power of legislation. We know exactly what we want to do, but once we do it, it is interpreted in a different way, we have no means to reinterpret it our way. If we find out that a court always throws us out on its own interpretation, if it interprets contrary to why we made the law, then we will have to find a way of producing a law that will have to be interpreted according to our wish!”
I believe that there has never been a greater distrust of the Judiciary by the Executive since Merdeka in 1957, which reminds me of the Reid Constitution Commission Report 1957, which had this to say on its recommendations on ‘Constitutional Guarantees on Fundamental Rights’:
“161. S Federal constitution defined and guarantees the rights of the Federation and the States: it is usual and in our opinion right that it should also define and guarantee certain fundamental individual rights which are generally regarded as essential conditions for a free and democratic way of life. The rights which we recommend should be defined and guaranteed are all firmly established now throughout Malaya and it may seem unnecessary to give them special protection in the Constitution. But we have found in certain quarters vague apprehensions about the future. We believe such apprehensions to be unfounded, but there can be no objection in guaranteeing these rights subject to limited exceptions in conditions of emergency and we recommend that this should be done. The guarantee afforded by the Constitution is the supremacy of the law and the power and duty of the Courts to enforce these rights and to annul any attempt to subvert any of them whether by legislative or administrative action or otherwise.”
It is now clear that 30 years later, the ‘apprehensions’ about the security of fundamental liberties expressed by Malaysians to the Reid Commission have now proved to be well founded, for the Executive is seeking to overturn one of the cardinal principles of our constitution to curb and limit the “power and duty of the Courts” to “annual any attempt to subvert” the Constitutional guarantees on fundamental liberties “whether by legislative or administrative action”.
The OSA Amendment Bill usurps the powers of the Judiciary and undermine the Independence of Judiciary by:
* The mandatory minimum one-year jail sentence, where the judges will no longer judge, they will no longer exercise their judgement, they will no longer have a meaningfull role to play in the administration of justice; and
* the exclusion of judicial review of a certificate by a Minister or a public officer which shall be conclusive evidence that “an official document, information or material” is official secret,
Fourth Objection: Death Knell for Freedom of Press
Our fourth fundamental objection to the OSA Amendment Bill is that it will be the death knell for freedom of the press in Malaysia. Malaysian press has not been distinguished or outstanding in its independent and investigative reporting, largely because of the growing ownership of newspaper in all language by ruling component Barisan Nasional parties.
The healthy growth of democracy in Malaysia requires the growth of a more independent, articulate and responsible press, which has a separate and distinct contribution to the nation, and not just as an appenndage of the ruling parties of the day.
The OSA Amendment Bill will not allow this growth, but will reduce the newspaper to mere government gazettes because of the draconian provisions of the OSA.
Let us head the words of Albert Camus: “A free press may be good or bad, but a press without freedom can only be bad. For the press as for mankind, freedom is the opportunity for improvement; slavery is the certainty of deterioration.”
Fifth Objection: End of Open, Responsible and Accountable Government
The fifth fundamental objection to the OSA is that it will mark the end of an Open, Responsible and Accountable Government.
With the present OSA, it is already so difficult to get the Government to be open, responsible and accountable. For instance, the Government was never a willing party in the accounting to the people of the various scandals in the country, like the $2.5 billion BMF scandal, the EPF-Makuwasa Scandal, the Maminco tin-buying scandal, the UMBC scandal.
The Government had to be forced every step of the way to come out with bits and pieces of information on these scandals, and even now, despite the promise by the Finance Minister, Daim Zainuddin, Malaysians are still waiting for his full statement explaining the UMBC share transactions involving his family companies in the three episodes in 1984, 1985 and 1986, including the price Pernas paid for the block of 51% UMBC shares – although it is two months since the Pernas purchase.
The OSA with the proposed Bill has been called the Charter for Corruption, for it will protection corruption, malpractices, wrongdoing in government and high places.
So far, Minister had only given one public reason for the OSA Amendment Bill. The need to protect tender and contract documents from being leaked out. This is a problem of corruption, rather than a problem of official secret; and if the government is really concerned about this problem, then it should amend the Prevention of Corruption Act to make it an offence of corruption for anyone to make profit from unauthorized disclosure of official information.
At present, a person who is guilty of corruption could be fined $1,000 or $2,000 while a patriotic ‘whistle-blower’ who disclosed information about the corruption would have to serve a minimum jail sentence of one year. Isn’t something terribly wrong with our order of priorities, sense of perspectives as well as our ethical and moral values?
Does the Government propose to amend the Prevention of Corruption Act to make it an offence with mandatory minimum one-year jail sentence for anyone who uses government information for profit or gain?
A clean, trustworthy and accountable government should accord recognition to the important function and contribution of the ‘whistle-blowers’ who sound the alarm about corruption, abuses, neglect at great risk. The DAP would even suggest that the Government General Orders should be amended to require government servants to expose abuses and corruption to put the loyalty to the highest moral principles and the country above loyalty to persons, party or Government departments.
This is why we are against a blanket prohibition on unauthorised disclosure of official information. Barring sensitive defence and national security information, there should be a saving clause whereby any person who discloses ‘official secret’ would have as a defence in any prosecution that that he acted in the public or national interest.
Otherwise, a cult of secrecy will descend like a blanket over the entire government, creating an atmosphere of fear and cowed silence, which is the very antithesis of a democratic, open, responsible and accountable government.
We have been assured by the Deputy Prime Minister, Attorney-General, and many other leaders in Government that the people should have no fear as the government would not abuse the powers under the OSA.
Let me state that the people take no comfort from such government assurances, for volumes could be written about the broken guarantees and false promises of the Barisan Nasional Government.
The Internal Security Act, (ISA) the terror twin sister of OSA, had been abused in its time with many Malaysians incarcerated for the simple reason that they are critics or opponents of the Government.
The UMNO MP for KOK Lanas, Datuk Abdullah Ahmad, has claimed that he was framed up and wrongly detained under the Internal Security Act, and this has not been denied or challenged by the Government. If the ISA could be abused to detain an UMNO leader, there would be lesser qualms in their use against political opponents or critics outside the ruling parties – as had happened.
When the Essential Security Cases Regulations were enacted in 1975, the then Attorney-General, Tan Sri Kadir Shamsuddin, assured the nation that he would decide on every case to be prosecuted under the Regulations to prevent any abuse, yet a 14-year-old boy was nearly sent to the gallows if not for nation-wide outcry. A shocked nation was later informed that the Attorney-General had not reviewed the case of the 14-year-old for prosecution!
The permanent and multiple state of emergency in Malaysia is another blatant example of gross abuse of power by the Government. The situations for which the four Proclamations of Emergency were made, namely the Indonesian Confrontation in 1964, the Sarawak Chief Minister crisis of Stephen Kalong Ningkan in 1966, the May 13 Incident of 1969 and the Kelantan Crisis of 1977, had all ceased to exist, but the Government refused to surrender and annu 1 these emergency powers.
The people of Sabah will forever remember the rioting, bombings, arson and illegal demonstration in March 1986, and how those involved either in plotting or implementing the crimes have been allowed immunity, and even rewarded with high political posts. How could the Government convince Sabahans that the government had never abused its powers?
Or take the case of the Prevention of Corruption Act 1961. The Government’s abuse of this law is evident for all to see, in the discriminatory and selective manner whereby it is used to deal with challengers to the authority in power, while the corrupt in the camp of those in authority need not fear prosecution for corruption under the Act.
My own case under the Official Secrets Act is another example of government abuse of power, where I was charged and convicted, while the Far Eastern Economic Review and the ASEAN Defence Journal were let off. I am still waiting for an explanation these eight years.
Finally, the manner where-by the Prime Minister and Barisan Leaders could go up and down the country holding public rallies while denied to the Opposition or public groups is another example of abuse of power by the Government
Yesterday, the Kuala Lumpur Police issued a stern warning to the people not to take part in the People’s Assembly at the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall on Sunday to protest against the Official Secrets Act Amendment Bill, and to show the people’s deep-seated concern for democracy and fundamental liberties, and their desire for a Freedom of Information Act.
Why should the Police harass or obstruct the peaceful and orderly gathering of the people to manifest their concern and hopes for democracy?
Do we have a situation where only UMNO Youth could summon assemblies and demonstrations, which is denied to all other Malaysians? Then, we have another instance of abuse of government power.
I would urge the Prime Minister, as Home Affairs Minister, to ask the police to either give a police permit for the People’s Assembly at the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall, or restrain from obstructing or harassing the People’s Assembly in the Defence of Democracy by ordinary citizens of Malaysia concerned and outraged by the OSA.
Let Sunday’s People’s Assembly be a tryst with democracy, and let the people have the freedom to peacefully and orderly express their deep love and concern for democratic rights and fundamental liberties in Malaysia.
The sixth and final objection to the OSA Amendment Bill is that it will precipitate a crisis of democracy in Malaysia, and plunge the country into the greatest crisis of confidence in Malaysian history.
The August general elections was supposed to put an end to the crisis of confidence, but events of the past four months have seen this crisis of confidence reaching new heights.
This crisis of confidence has reached a stage where foreign investors who had a stake, or who intend to have a stake, in Malaysia, are very perturbed, because they see an ever-growing gulf between propaganda and reality.
I do not believe that the government’s various agencies whose responsibility is to monitor national and international opinion are so ineffective as to be unaware of this deepening crisis of confidence, which will be made worse by the passage of the OSA Bill.
Minister of Trade and Industry, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah’s statement to foreign investors that they need not worry about the OSA for they could see him if they wanted any information, is not going to be of any help, unless Tengku Razaleigh is going to give ip his duties as Minister of Trade and Industry and become a full-time information officer for foreign investors!
There is an even more important reason why the Prime Minister should not proceed with the OSA Bill at this stage. At a time when the country’s greatest problem is the crisis of confidence, which is inhibiting economic recovery by harnessing the energies and contributions of all Malaysians to face up to the economic crisis, the Government must avoid any action which would create a greater divide between the Government and the People.
From the public reactions to the Freedom of Information Campaign movement, the Government can see for itself that never before has any bill generated greater opposition and criticism.
The Malaysian people felt let down because by withdrawing the first version of the OSA Bill in the March before the general elections, the people were let to believe that the Government would drop its proposal to impose mandatory minimum one-year jail sentence and an all-encompassing definition of ‘official secret’.
The mandate the Barisan Nasional received on August 3 was not a mandate to enact the OSA Bill, but to drop it. I would challenge the Prime Minister to hold a national referendum on the OSA Bill to ascertain the wishes of the people, if he believes that it will get majority popular support. For my part, I have confidence that a national referendum on the OSA Bill will unite Malaysians from all racial groups as well as urban and rural areas to oppose the OSA Bill.
Be that as it may, there should be no doubt that the forcible passage of the OSA Bill today, in the teeth of opposition by the most widespread public opposition to any Bill, would antagonise the Malaysian people from the Government even further as the Government would be seen to have embarked on a stance of open defiance and confrontation with the people.
Such a situation is not conductive to resolving, but aggravating, the crisis of confidence in Malaysia, and erosion of legitimacy of the Government in the Malaysia public.
The DAP feels that at this critical juncture of our national life, we should all seek our outmost to avoid a confrontational approach, especially if it will lead to a greater gulf between the Government and the People.
It is for this reason that the DAP suggests that the OSA Bill should be referred to a Select Committee, and the second reading be deferred until the March meeting of Parliament.
Under Standing Order 54(1), a Bill may be referred to a Select Committee before its second reading, and I would urge on the Prime Minister to agree to do so, to allow a Select Committee on the Freedom of Information to seek the greatest public participation on the Bill as well as the whole question of freedom of information in Malaysia.
If the Prime Minister does not agree, then I give notice that I will propose under Standing Order 54(2) to refer to Bill to a Select Committee after the second reading. I do not think the security or interest of the nation will be compromised if the OSA Bill is deferred until next March. On the contrary, I believe great good will come out of its, in preventing the gulf between Government and People from becoming an unbridgeable chasm, helping to resolve the nation’s No.1 problem: the Crisis of Confidence.
The Government has the four-fifth majority to pass this Bill, and the Prime Minister has cracked the Whip requiring all Barisan MP’s to toe the line, or face the consequences.
I would urge the Prime Minister, in the interest of greater national consensus, to reconsider and show that he could be democratic enough to accede to widespread and legitimate concerns about the far-reaching implications of the Bill. The Prime Minister would have taken a great step to bring about the process of national reconciliation if he is prepared to heed the views, opinions and pleas of the people.
If the Prime Minister is dead-set on ramming through the OSA Bill, then I will urge the Barisan Minister and MPs to take a stand in accordance with their conscience, and not to the crack of the whip.
There are times in the history of a nation when we must be prepared to take a principled stand, not for our own sake, but for the sake of the nation and future generations. Malaysian politics will be very much healthier of we have the tradition of Minister or MPs breaking ranks, resigning on a principle, of putting national and public interest above personal interest.
I hope the Gerakan and PBS, which had openly declared their opposition to the objectionable provisions in the Bill, will take a principled stand in Parliament.
Parliament, the Judiciary, press freedom, public like will never be the same again when the OSA Bill is made into law.
Before I conclude, I must make it clear that the human yearning for democracy, freedom and justice cannot be stifled or snuffed out by repressive laws, and if the Barisan Nasional, in disregard of national interest, goes ahead to pass this Bill, the battle for the restoration for democracy will start from today. Freedom, democracy and human rights have suffered a grave setback, but so long as there is life and breath among Malaysians who cherish freedom, democracy, so long will the battle be fought until final victory.