Disappointing wait for FOI implementation in Penang

(FZ.com) – More than a year after it was enacted, Penang’s Freedom of Information (FOI) Enactment has still not been implemented.

Chief Minister today said the process is still being managed by the state Legal Advisor, who is incidentally appointed by the Attorney General.

Stressing that the state is uncomfortable with the progress, Lim told the Penang State Assembly that legal advisor Datuk Faiza Zulkifli needs to oversee some steps before it can be put into effect.

The lengthy wait is despite the legislation having been approved by the assembly as far back as in November 2011 and gazetted last year.

When it was first tabled in October 2010, it was referred to a select committee for revision.

It was also opposed by Barisan Nasional assembly members who called it unnecessary, maintaining that it flies in the face of the existing (federal) Official Secrets Act (OSA) 1972.

These steps by the legal advisor include examining the guidelines for implementation, as well as outlining and approving the procedures for the FOI appeals board and the regulations for accessing information.

“According to the Legal Advisor, this enactment will be put into force after all regulatory necessities and related fee payments are gazetted beforehand,” Lim, who is Air Putih assembly member, said in his winding-up speech during the motion of support for the Governor’s speech.

He stressed that the state is disappointed with the progress made so far.

“The state government still hopes that all the relevant affairs can be settled by the Legal Advisor in early 2014,” he added.

He was responding to a question by Wong Hon Wai (DAP-Air Itam) on when the FOI would be up and running.

The Freedom of Information Enactment 2012 would allow Penangites to access various forms of documents, minutes and decisions of the government

Queried further by reporters at a press conference later on the role of the Legal Advisor, Lim said: “You know what the problems are. You can read between the lines.”  

The state government had wanted to introduce the FOI since 2008.

However, Lim said that Faiza had advised him and the executive council against tabling the bill because it was considered ultra vires the Federal Constitution. Information comes under the federal government, she had reportedly asserted.

It was only when Selangor tabled its FOI bill in July 2010 and passed it in April 2011 that Penang used that as a precedent in getting around her objections.

Meanwhile, Lim also said the state would consider a suggestion by Teh Yee Cheu (DAP-Tanjung Bungah) that the administration set up a ‘Big Data’ system where all relevant information of the state government and its departments can be accessed from a single portal, in line with the FOI.

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