The Selangor and Penang state governments have often trumpeted their Freedom of Information (FOI) enactments as proof that they are committed to being transparent. Unfortunately, it appears that despite the legislation, it is still hard to extract information from either of the two governments.
Selangor was tripped up by Say No To Dash spokesperson Michelle Wong in March last year, when she complained that the state did not meet her request for information on the proposed Damansara-Shah Alam Highway with the excuse that it had yet to compile the relevant documents. About a year earlier, retiree Chia Sek Guan said Selangor did respond to her request for details of the proposal to build the Kinrara Damansara Expressway (Kidex), but she complained that the documents she received was less than informative.
Penang has been under fire from Gerakan over requests filed by its state youth chief, Jason Loo, for more information on the RM6.3 billion undersea tunnel and three paired roads projects. Loo refused to sign a sworn statement promising not to reveal the contents of the documents he requested under Penang’s FOI.
Penang’s state secretary, Farizan Darus, explaining the rather strange requirement imposed on Loo, said: “The reason we do not allow documents of the state government to be reproduced, orally or written, is we do not want people to be confused. People might misinterpret the documents.” Now, doesn’t it go against the spirit of the FOI enactment to limit the availability of information only to politicians? The other requirements, such as a prohibition against editing the documents, seem sound, but this one cannot be acceptable.
“Misinterpretation” of information by the public is of course a risk that every FOI compliant government is exposed to. However, clearing up a misinterpretation should not be too hard for a government that is honest and open.
Statements like Farizan’s are like baits that draw political rivals who are hungry for blood. And if any dirt turns up in the documents requested by Loo, Gerakan is not going to care whether or not a sworn statement has been signed. It will go ahead and reveal the dirt because the political advantage it stands to gain is too great to give up.
“Berani kerana benar” is a saying that’s been drilled into our heads from years of Moral lessons in school, and we should now direct it to the Penang and Selangor governments. If they have nothing to hide, they will gladly open their books to anyone who wants to read them. If they are reluctant to do so, then we’ll have to assume that they do have things to hide.
Penang and Selangor have indeed passed landmark legislations with their FOI enactments, but in our new era of transparency, we expect far more than mere lip service.