Important to have free access to data

Only with accurate information being freely available can the rakyat play a meaningful role in ensuring government decisions will have a positive effect on their lives.

Azmi Sharom

THE Freedom of Information Bill (FOI) tabled in the Selangor assembly this week is the first major legislative action taken by the Pakatan Rakyat state government, and it is an important one.

It is, in my opinion, the first time they have taken a substantive step — by which I mean more than mere rhetoric — to show an ideological divide between themselves and Barisan Nasional.

The FOI, if it is passed, is a law that will enhance and strengthen one of the people’s fundamental liberties; specifically Article 10 of the Federal Constitution, which is about the freedom of expression.

The right to information is an integral part of the right to expression because it is near impossible to voice your views with any authority if information is denied to you.

If the FOI lives up to its promise and works on the philosophy that information as a matter of course will be released, then it should make a real difference to the rights of the residents of Selangor.

Their participation in governance will then become much more meaningful.

And this is the second reason why this bill is so important. To achieve good governance, two of the key ingredients are ac­­countability on the part of authority and meaningful participation by the citizens. In one swoop the FOI can enhance both.

When information is available freely, it is harder to hide wrong-doings and corruption, too, becomes more difficult to practice.

Human beings are flawed and because of our flaws we shall always be vulnerable to temptation. It is hard to change people’s character but what one can do is to ensure that the system within which they operate does not give them free reign to indulge in the baser parts of that character.

A system which is transparent and promotes accountability does just that.