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TELLING IT AS IT IS
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| FRIDAY OCTOBER 31 2008
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Foggy on the right to know front
by Sonia Randhawa
because corruption can kill. A building doesn’t meet ANNUALLY on Sept 28, activists safety regulations, but a small internationally celebrate “donation” helps it get planning Right to Know Day. Almost 70 approval. A trafﬁc policeman countries across the world have ignores a violation, contributing enacted meaningful Freedom to our overall lack of safety on of Information Laws. Alongside the roads. But it isn’t just in the national laws, in federations matters of life and death where across the world, regional corruption has an impact, assemblies have passed laws. and where transparency and Sadly in Malaysia, there is still accountability can help ensure Freespace nothing to celebrate. Despite the better decision-making. It is Where young views rule fanfare on March 8 of greater in almost every area where accessibility, no state has passed government dabbles. Freedom of Information legislation. Not We have seen this in the problems with one has even enacted weaker guidelines the alienation of state land – decisions on accessibility and accountability. Not made that were both legally suspect and one has made a pledge to publish cabinet not in the interests of the community. meeting minutes. Lack of transparency means we cannot Why is it important? Access to be certain about our health, about our information is, literally, vital – in part entitlements, about the education of our
children, or even how our money – that part of it we pay in taxes – is being spent. The results of freedom of information are good for everyone – except those beneﬁting from corruption or similar practices. Government can work more efﬁciently, as it’s easier for all to see and monitor how tax money is being spent, and stop waste. It means that people are more likely to respect government decisions, if they can see the process leading up to decisions being made. If there is an emergency, if the government needs to rapidly mobilise the population for a health or safety risk, there is a greater chance of response – and if the data on which these decisions are made public, it’s more likely that this information will be spotted sooner. There are areas where freedom of information is counter-productive – information about ongoing police investigations, for example. But case ﬁles should be opened once a case is closed. Watch In the Name of the Father if you need proof. Police are not always motivated by the public interest – and even if there isn’t overt corruption, political pressure, public outcry or prejudice can sway investigations. Public scrutiny can provide an antidote, and help rectify miscarriages of justice. (It also makes arbitrary arrest a lot harder). The Barisan Nasional governments have argued that freedom of information legislation is “not necessary” – that it could compromise national security. Yet, a number of countries engaged in conﬂict (the United States, Britain, India, Thailand and the Philippines) have some provisions for freedom of information. The position of Pakatan Rakyat governments is even harder to comprehend. They universally acknowledge the need for freedom of information. They have been pushing for the laws at a federal level. Yet, within their own constituencies they claim that
We believe that the young should have a say in how things are run, because they have everything at stake in our future. This column creates that space for our panel of bright young sparks to debate a whole range of issues that they feel strongly about.
passing such legislation would cause a constitutional conﬂict and be unenforceable. This is pure sophistry. First, it hasn’t stopped PAS governments passing legislation in the past. Second, state-level legislation, as in the proposed Freedom of Information law drafted by NGOs, does not have to conﬂict with federal-level legislation. It would not mean a repeal of the Ofﬁcial Secrets Act – but as in Japan, it would mean that the state governments would be bound not to use the OSA on information that they produce. They would have to publish their decisions, they would have to account for their spending. There is nothing in the Ofﬁcial Secrets Act that says that if states choose to bind themselves to publish, and be praised or damned for their actions, that they cannot do it – for most of the information they produce. The sooner they live up to their promises, and pass some form of right to know legislation, the more faith the rakyat will have in their administrations – and their ability to keep their word. Sonia Randhawa was one of the authors of the Draft Freedom of Information law published by the Freedom of Information coalition. Right to Know Day falls on Sept 28 each year. Sonia is just a little late! Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sharing the economic cake
I APPLAUD MCA vice-president Datuk Liow Tiong Lai for moving away from questioning the 30% bumiputra equity in the NEP to refocusing on what is more expedient and crucial to the nation’s well-being ie economic growth. For as long as politicians and political enthusiasts indulge in regressive and unproductive debates, Malaysia’s real development will not move forward. The nation will be seen as being trapped in a time warp, its citizenry embroiled in ethno-racial insecurities which stagnate growth and development. It is only when the economic cake is expanded with pragmatic policies that are implemented fairly that Malaysians of all ethnic compositions will be able to enjoy a fair and equitable distribution of the nation’s wealth. Only then can Malaysians hold their heads high and say that the spirit of Article 153 of the Federal Constitution has been rightly translated into dynamic policies for the people. It is only when the Malays and non-Malays feel that their special position and needs as well as their legitimate rights are given due consideration that they will be able to rid themselves of their suspicions and prejudices, ie the destructive elements threatening the nation’s peace and prosperity. Considering the success of the Chinese community in holding a share of the country’s wealth which is proportionately greater than their racial representation, one wonders why they are still complaining. A better approach would be to show greater magnanimity in opening the doors to their Malay and Indian compatriots to fully participate in shared business activities. Old community networks which have sustained Chinese business interests since their forefathers ﬁrst arrived in Malaya must reﬂect the multiracial nation that Malaysia has become. Because of their economic prowess Malaysian Chinese must lead the way in educating and training the other communities to acquire skills and knowhow which will raise productivity. Instead of regressing into old arguments it’s time to move forward and establish new ones. Halimah Mohd Said Kuala Lumpur
Tourists at ease with English
I READ the Deputy Tourism Minister’s comment that Malaysia has an advantage over other nearby countries because most people can speak English. I agree with this and it has been a major factor for me and my husband. We ﬁrst came as tourists and now have a second home here. Both then and now as more permanent residents we chat to people just about every day. On the other hand I remember that in Thailand it was unusual to meet someone with whom we could have a proper conversation. As do-it-yourself tourists we often have to ask people in the street for directions and it can be difﬁcult to make oneself understood. In the neighbouring countries it is all right when dealing with people in the tourism business but with others we are reduced to basic greetings and sign language. The downside is that we have made very little progress in learning Bahasa Malaysia but as the country uses the Roman alphabet we can at least read everything. Valerie Black Penang
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