Govt to consider a few options on Official Secrets Act 1972

pic by BERNAMA

THE government is considering a few other options with regards to the Official Secrets Act (OSA) 1972 (Act 88) whether it will be repealed, or to establish a Freedom of Information Act while maintaining Act 88, or just doing an amendment on the provisions of Act 88.

Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Mohamed Hanipa Maidin (picture) said the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government has engaged with various ministries and legal authorities to deliberate the matter.

“In this context, several discussion sessions were held involving ministries, departments and agencies such as the Chief Government Security Office, the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia, Penang Legal Advisory Office, Selangor Legal Advisory Office and Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit,” he said in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday.

Mohamed Hanipa was responding to a query from Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said (Barisan Nasional-Pengerang) on the status of both the OSA 1972 and the Freedom of Information Act.

He said the aim is for the government to strike a balance and to offset whatever is seen as a violent or negative element in the OSA.

On July 11, 2018, the government agreed that the Freedom of Information Act would be drawn up to replace the OSA.

The Cabinet Special Committee on Anti-Corruption had agreed in principle that sufficient time must be given for the law to be drawn up.

“The government is also committed to ensuring that the Freedom of Information Act draft is implemented holistically and inclusively.

“Thus, public consultation on the proposed draft of the Freedom of Information Act will be provided as soon as the policy aspects of this act are finalised with stakeholders,” Mohamed Hanipa added.

“Previously, the OSA 1972 was used to protect cruelty, abuse of power and not to protect confidential information.

Now, we are finding a balance to solve the issue,” he said when responding to another supplementary question from Dr Azman Ismail (PH-Kuala Kedah) on methods to protect sensitive government information.

The OSA 1972 allows the government to classify any document as secret and imprison those who release such information for up to seven years.

The law has long been criticised for its lack of transparency, or worse, to cover up the government’s scandals.

The Act provides that anything can be declared a secret. In order for something to be declared top secret, all it needs is i) someone who is in the public service; and ii) has been appointed by the minister, in order to declare it as a top secret.

The Act also allows physical locations to be classified as a “secret”, referred to as “prohibited place”. These are typically military areas, government occupied areas, certain detainment areas and anything else that a minister classifies as such.