Selayang Council turns blind eye to Freedom of Information Act 

(The Sun Daily) – The tenets of the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) mooted and approved by the Selangor state government last year have landed with a thud even before they can take off.

While the legislation allowing access to government information has been presented as the “product of the people’s power”, the people are powerless even with existing legislation which provides for access to basic information.

Even existing guarantees in some pieces of legislation before the advent of the FOI are being ignored and a culture of “don’t let them know” has pervaded.

Take the local councils, for example. Ratepayers and understandably, their legal tenants are entitled to inspect minutes of meetings of the council. This is enshrined in the Local Government Act. However, the Selayang Municipal Council thinks otherwise.

It has taken upon itself to deny a request for the minutes of the meeting where the controversial Dolomite Avenue Park project was approved. Who supported the move, who objected or who abstained from voting are now national secret – no thanks to some bumbling council official whose interpretation of the clause is somewhat left to be desired.

Unequivocally, the law states: “The minutes of all proceedings of the local authority shall be kept at the office of the local authority and shall at all reasonable times be open to the inspection of any Councillor or rate-payer of the local authority area and of any officer of the Government of the Federation or of the State in which such local authority area is situate, any of whom may at all reasonable times make a copy of any part thereof without fee…”

Therefore, what authority does anyone have to prevent a lawful request? The council’s corporate communications officer Jamaliah Ahmad repeatedly said: “The minutes are confidential and no one from the public can view or access them. Only the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission is allowed to access the documents.”
The law is silent and does not consent or oppose any party to the information. To take it upon themselves to state that only anti-graft officers are eligible is self-defeating and makes it unworthy of being stipulated in writing.

When specifically referred to the clause, she refused, insisting that no access would be given and the catchword was: “Only the MACC officers have access.”
So, what do the champions of information freedom in the state capital think about one arm of their government? Why waste time, effort and money on an FOI Act when even the simplest of clauses cannot be interpreted correctly?