Malaysia, as Chair of NAM and OIC, should play a leading role in CHOGM 2003 in Abuja by calling for expulsion of Zimbabwe as well as urging all commonwealth countries to introduce liberal access to information laws by no later than CHOGM 2005
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): Malaysia, as Chair of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), should play a leading role in CHOGM 2003 in Abuja, Nigeria from 5-8 December by calling for the expulsion of Zimbabwe as well as pressing all commonwealth countries to introduce liberal access to information laws by no later than CHOGM 2005.
The host of CHOGM 2003, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has announced that there will be no invitation to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to the Commonwealth summit of heads of government. Zimbabwe was suspended from the 54-nation Commonwealth after widespread violence and ballot-rigging in last year’s presidential elections.
There has since been continued abuse of fundamental human rights and the principles of good governance and rule of law in Zimbabwe. A recent example of such violations is the closure of the Daily News, and the Media and Information Commission’s subsequent rejection of its application for registration – an abuse of law and a flagrant interference with freedom of expression.
Other ongoing violations in Zimbabwe are the infringement of freedoms of association, expression and assembly through the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) 2002.
Malaysia should take a strong stand at the CHOGM 2003 for firm action to be taken by the Commonwealth for the return to the Zimbabwean people respect for their rights and welfare and to ensure the credibility of the Commonwealth as an association – such as a specific human rights inquiry into the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe or even expulsion of Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth so long as Mugabe defies international human rights principles and the Harare Declaration commitments of the Commonwealth.
For the CHOGM 2003, the International Advisory Commission of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, a Commonwealth human rights NGO, has submitted a report to the member nations a report on the right to information, recommending a specific time-bound commitment by CHOGM 2003 to implement the right to information in all its member states.
Among its recommendations are:
When he became Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawai pledged a “clean, incorruptible, modest and beyond suspicion” government and called on Malaysians to tell him the truth.
All these promises of an open government will come to nought if the people’s right to information is not recognized or entrenched by law.
The right to information holds within it the right to seek information as well as the duty to give information, to create, store, organize and make it easily available, and to withhold it only when it is in the public interest to do so.
The right to information lays the foundation upon which to build good governance, transparency, accountability and participation, and to eliminate corruption.
Research has shown that countries with access to information laws are also perceived to be the least corrupt. In 2003, of the ten countries scoring best in Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perception Index, nine had effective legislation enabling the public to see government files. Of the ten countries perceived to be the worst when it comes to corruption, not even one had a functioning access to information regime.
Malaysia should embrace and spread the message that open government with right to access information is the antidote to corruption. At present, only 11 out of 54 Commonwealth countries have access to information laws, and Malaysia is not one of them.
CHOGM 2003 is a good start for Malaysia to be in the international forefront for open government and the right to access information, which is a fundamental precondition for development and democracy.
As Chair of NAM and OIC, Malaysia should be represented at the highest level at CHOGM 2003. If Abdullah is unable to attend personally, he should seriously consider appointing a Deputy Prime Minister in time for his deputy to attend the Commonwealth summit in Nigeria, as it is rather incongruous for the Chair of NAM and OIC not to be represented at the highest level at CHOGM 2003.
* Lim Kit Siang, DAP National Chairman