Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Info leak ban shows insincerity in Putrajaya’s graft fight, Pakatan says

The Penal Code amendment prohibiting the leaking of government information showed that Putrajaya was not serious in combating corruption, Pakatan Rakyat (PR) lawmakers said today.

PKR’s Pandan MP Rafizi Ramli criticised the amendment, which was passed in Parliament yesterday, for promoting a “yes-man culture” in the civil service, pointing out that the law did not specifically protect leaks of information on corruption.

“What the amendment does is effectively creating a civil service who will not want to rock the boat because there is a heavy price to pay, even if he whistleblows on corruption,” Rafizi told The Malay Mail Online in a text message today from Mecca.

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“This is equivalent to emasculating the civil service, which also shows the great distrust BN (Barisan Nasional) has against the civil service,” added the PKR strategy director.

De facto law minister Nancy Shukri was reported by news portal yesterday as saying that the new Section 203A clause in the Penal Code - which punishes those who “disclose any information or matter” obtained in the performance of their duties with a fine of not more than RM1 million, or up to one year’s imprisonment, or both - was not meant to prevent whistleblowers from leaking information to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC).

“If the Malaysian Anti Corruption Commission (MACC) gets a tip off, those who have given the information will be protected under the MACC Act itself,” she was quoted as saying.

But Rafizi, who shot to fame after exposing the National Feedlot Centre (NFC) cattle-farming scandal in 2011, said that allowing whistleblowers to report solely to national graft busters goes “against the very basis for whistleblowing”.

“In fact, a majority of people who come to NOW have already gone to MACC, but were frustrated by what they perceived as a lack of action,” said Rafizi, referring to the National Oversight and Whistleblowers Centre (NOW) organisation that he had set up last year.

“If BN is serious about allowing whistleblowing culture as a mechanism to check corruption, it will promote an ecosystem where whistleblowers can go to competent parties and get protection under the law. Such competent parties include NOW, media, politicians and NGOs. Such is the Whistleblowers Protection Act in UK, Australia and Europe,” he added.

Rafizi accused Putrajaya of wanting to “eliminate whistleblowing altogether” by restricting information leaks to the MACC, “knowing that people don’t want to go to the authorities or MACC for fear no action will be taken, and instead, that they will be prosecuted”.

The young lawmaker, however, vowed to continue exposing corruption, saying: “I will be more than happy to be charged in court again for defending the public’s interest”.

PAS’ Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad pointed out that the Penal Code amendment contradicted the Najib administration’s commitment to transparency and accountability.

“We find it ludicrous where it’s so sweeping, even in issues which are not classified as OSA (Official Secrets Act),” Khalid told The Malay Mail Online today.

“What Nancy should be more concerned about is making sure that government officers are allowed to inform all parties, including the MACC, but not limited to just the MACC...It’s a proven fact corruption is getting from bad to worse. MACC has become a toothless tiger in many aspects,” added the PAS central committee member, highlighting MACC’s apparent inaction in graft allegations against Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud.

Transparency-International’s (TI) recent Global Corruption Barometer 2013 survey revealed that 30 per cent of respondents thought the Malaysian government has been effective in fighting corruption, down from 49 per cent in 2011.

Malaysia is also seen as the most corrupt country in the world for business, according to TI’s 2012 Bribe Payers Survey.

DAP’s Klang MP Charles Santiago said that the RM1 million fine is a “major deterrent” to civil servants against leaking information relating to corruption.

“No civil servant in his right mind would attempt to whistleblow or go to MACC,” Santiago told The Malay Mail Online today.

“It also causes problems to the PR (Pakatan Rakyat) state governments of Selangor and Penang. Their commitment to practising an open and transparent government will not be possible, given that federal laws take priority over state laws,” he added.

Today, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nancy Shukri said Putrajaya would adopt “progressive amendments” to the Penal Code Amendment Bill, including more specific wording of Clause 11 on disclosure of information by civil servants that she conceded was too vague.

Selangor and Penang passed freedom of information laws in 2011.

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