The Meteorological Services Department yesterday reported "slight haze" in seven areas over the previous 24 hours, namely Penang, Klang Valley, Kuantan and Kuching but Alam Sekitar Malaysia Sdn. Bhd (Asma), the company awarded the concession to instal air monitoring stations and monitor pollutant index nation-wide had been directed by the Government not to make public the API readings on the ground that they are "official secrets".
The Cabinet decision to ban API readings from being made public is downright ridiculous and unbelievable at a time when the government is trying to push Malaysia to the new Information Technology frontier of an information society.
This decision is also completely indefensible when warnings are being sounded in Indonesia that the haze disaster this time around could be as catastrophic as two years ago in 1997, when an environmental emergency was declared in Sarawak with the API reaching the all-time disastrous high of 839 in the history of the country.
If the government is serious in wanting Malaysia to become an information society, then it must change its mind-set about information, repeal the Official Secrets Act and enact a Freedom of Information and Privacy Act where as a general rule, government information should be accessible by the people because it belongs to the people.
Access to government-held information is a prerequisite to the proper functioning of a democratic society. Without information, people cannot exercise their rights and responsibilities or make informed choices. Information is necessary for government accountability.
A general shift in focus is therefore required - from one of not disclosing information unless absolutely required, to one of disclosing unless there is a very good reason not to, such as defence or security considerations.
In the case of API readings, the government’s reason that they would drive off tourists cannot balance off the greater public interests of the short, medium and long-term health implications of present and future generations of Malaysians.
As the decision to put the lid of "official secrets" on API readings
was made by the Cabinet, every Cabinet Minister must be held responsible
and accountable for this most retrogressive act.
The time has come for a nation-wide movement to demand that all the Barisan Nasional leaders who are Cabinet Ministers should heed public demand that API readings should be made public with the return of the haze threat.