Refusal of the
new Abdullah-Najib government to break from the secrecy complex of the
Mahathir era and to continue to keep API a secret under OSA should be the
signal for a new campaign by civil society for Freedom of Information Act to
remind the Barisan Nasional of its election pledge of a trustworthy and
people-oriented government ready to hear the truth from the citizenry
Media Statement (2)
by Lim Kit Siang
(Petaling Jaya, Saturday): Although the statement by the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak that the air pollutant index (API) will remain a secret under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) has not really come as a surprise, it is still a great disappointment for it punctures another bubble of hope among Malaysians expecting government reform and improvement under a new Prime Minister after 22 years.
Malaysians must stand up to express loud and clear their disappointment at Najib’s announcement and demand that the Cabinet next Wednesday should give this matter new and deep redeliberation, not only because of the return of the haze and its health hazard to 25 million Malaysians, but because of the larger national implications, such as:
Najib’s contention that the release of API figures would be distorted by the foreign media to paint a grim picture of Malaysia to have an adverse effect on the economy, particularly the flow of tourist ringgit, is both short-sighted and pre-information society.
By this argument, that Malaysia is in an international environment of hostile international media out to present the country in the worst possible light, then Malaysia should be taking further measures to become a very closed society instead of becoming a more open society – even banning the mass media from giving too much coverage to the various national ills, like the rise in sex crimes and snatch-thefts in particular and the double rise in crime rate and fear of crime in general, as they could be distorted by the international media to the economic detriment of the nation.
Najib may not be aware that although Malaysia had taken the most erroneous decision to classify API as an official secret since 1997, when the country faced the previous worst haze crisis, our nearest neighbour, Singapore, which suffered under the same haze catastrophe in the region, never banned its air pollution figures.
Surely, the Singapore authorities should be equally, if not more, concerned about the adverse effect of poor API data on foreign tourist arrivals – but the way to win national and international confidence whether foreign investors or tourists is not to retreat into a closed society but to be open with effective measures to deal with environmental crisis or social problems.
The refusal of the new Abdullah-Najib government to break away from the secrecy complex of the Mahathir regime and to continue to keep API a secret under OSA should be the signal for a new campaign by civil society for Freedom of Information Act to remind the Barisan Nasional of its election pledge of a trustworthy and people-oriented government ever-ready to hear the truth from the citizenry.
* Lim Kit Siang, Parliamentary Opposition Leader,
Member of Parliament for Ipoh Timor & DAP National Chairman