Using Official Secrets Act to ride roughshod over public interests 

Our Umno-dominated, Barisan Nasional-led government, no matter how much we “love” it, seems to have a strange penchant for making secrets out of public interest issues, calling to question what it is that our leaders are trying to hide.

Hazlan Zakaria, The Ant Daily 

On Nov 21, eleven Members of Parliament representing voters from the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur were asked to sign an Official Secrets Act 1972 (OSA) declaration form prior to a briefing on Kuala Lumpur City Hall’s (DBKL) proposed assessment rate hike.

But some of the MPs, mainly from the opposition, had reportedly refused to sign the form, citing Pakatan Rakyat’s policy of transparency in governance.

Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Mansor and KL Mayor Datuk Ahmad Phesal Talib handled the briefing, which came on the heels of public uproar over the planned hike, which in some areas are reportedly as high as 260 per cent.

The KL Mayor said the proposed increase was timely and justified it by pointing out that the local authority was faced with rising expenses.

This runs contrary to his reported statement during the local authority’s budget speech that DBKL saw high revenues, for despite the lack of a rate hike for the past 21 years, the number of properties that pay assessment tax has increased exponentially.

However, the bigger picture here is our government’s seeming preoccupation with making secrets out of public interest issues, and the KL assessment hike briefing is not the only case.

Two other recent glaring cases are the Selangor water privatisation deal and major toll concession agreements. Like the KL assessment rate hike briefing, both are public interest issues which for some reasons have been made into official secrets.

The secrecy clause over both agreements made it impossible for the public to know why toll rates continue to rise and concession periods seem to go on forever.

It also obscures why the federal government pumps money into a Selangor water concessionaire and agrees to proposals to raise water tariffs sky high.

Similarly, if not for the protestations of some of the MPs, no explanation would have been had for why the KL assessment rates need to be raised such.

But what is not secret is that the companies involved in the previous “official secrets” are owned by Umno personalities or business persons seen as close to BN leaders.

And despite having mostly Pakatan MPs, the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur continues to be administered exclusively by the federal government without any electoral representation.

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