Friday, April 01, 2011

Not so 'open and transparent' birth of Selangor's FOI

I visited the website of the State Legislative Assembly of Selangor (Dewan Negeri Selangor), hoping to have sight of this Freedom of Information Bill, that has been passed - but I could not find it. Even our Malaysian Parliament's website is more transparent and open, and we can always have access of all Bills that are before the Parliament. I hope that Pakatan Rakyat's Selangor government would emulate this better practice, and ensure that in the future all Bills that are being considered, and all State Enactments are easily available to the public at the State Legislative Assembly website. It is most important for everyone to have sight of these Bills, so that they can provide their views, opinions, concerns and other input to their ADUNs to consider and raise. 

I saw the earlier version of the FOI Bill, and it drew a lot of criticisms from civil society and the public, and it is good to note that there have been amendments since - but what were these amendments.

The essence of this Bill is 'openess and transparency' but this Bill has been amended, tabled and passed in a manner that lacked 'openess and transparency', and this is very sad. Lets not cry over 'spilt milk' but look to the future, and hope that there will be greater openness and transparency especially when new law (or policy) is being considered and passed. 

Does anyone know where we can get a copy of this FOI Act that has been passed? 

The Selangor assembly today created history by being the first state assembly to enact the Freedom of Information Enactment 2010.

The enactment was tabled for the third reading today by Tourism, Consumer Affairs and the Environment executive councillor and Bukit Lanjan assemblyperson Elizabeth Wong and was accepted by unanimous vote without amendments.

The proposal was seconded by Sri Andalas assemblyperson Xavier Jeyakumar.

It is understood that all of the recommendations proposed by the select committee, made up of PKR-Seri Setia assemblyperson Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, PKR-Batu Caves assemblyperson Amirudin Shari, DAP-Subang Jaya assemblyperson Hannah Yeoh, PAS-Sijangkang Ahmad Yunus Hairi and the two BN representatives, were accepted in total.

“The process (involving a select committee consisting of experts and members of the public) took nine months... This is a product of the people's courage and conviction in choosing Pakatan Rakyat in 2008,” Wong said.

She added that through the select committee, the initial draft has been improved on and will not be ultra vires.

“What we wanted to do was to have an enactment which is complete but within the bounds of the state's jurisdiction, and does not challenge the federal constitution,” she said.

NONEWong (right) said that the enactment, which will include information involving state administration, government-linked companies and municipal and city councils, will be a “dynamic” one.

“If we feel that we can improve the enactment in the next five or six months, the Selangor government will be happy to review the proposals,” she said.

She also expressed disappointment in the BN backbenchers' refusal “to take part in history” by failing to attend a single committee meeting since the second reading of the enactment last year.
The two BN representatives invited to the committee and public enquiry were Tanjung Sepat assemblyperson Karim Mansor and Kuang assemblyperson Abdul Shukor Idrus.

Selangor BN had previously opposed the enactment, saying that it is just a ploy to provide more positions for Pakatan Rakyat supporters, and that it is ultra vires and redundant.
Enactment to be implemented in six months
Speaking to reporters later, Wong said that the state now has six months to prepare to implement the enactment, including training information officers, developing procedures for applications, drafting the application form, evaluating costs and forming the state information board.

The state is proposing to seek consultation and training from countries that have implemented similar legislation before.

Wong, however, could not give a ballpark figure for the cost and that this will be tabled in the assembly after it has been finalised.

She added that the state information board is a revised version of the appeals board as stated in the earlier draft and will now consist of those with legal background (former lawyers or judges) who are independent from party politics.

Appeals following rejection of applications and recommendation for improvements would need to go through this board.

Amendments to the draft

Other amendments made following recommendations from the select committee include:
  • Changing the preamble from saying that the enactment is an “opportunity for the rakyat” to “the right of the rakyat to reasonable access information”.
  • Penalties will no longer only apply to applicants, but also information officers proved to have impeded or obstructed access with ill intentions.
  • Applicants who can be proven to have applied for information with ill intentions, other than stipulated in their application, can also be penalised.
  • Expansion of the enactment to include government-linked companies and local authorities.
“This has been a labour of love…It is also a challenge, that if Selangor can do it, so can the federal government... (which has) more at their disposal. They even have the entire Attorney-General's Chambers.

“It's about time that we stop hiding behind black curtains, and laws like the Official Secrets Act must be reviewed,” she said.- Malaysiakini, 1/4/2011, First-ever FOI enactment passed

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