Suhakam bemoans lack of control over govt's power in classifying documents

KUALA LUMPUR: There needs to be greater control over the power of ministers and public officers in classifying a document under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) 1972.

Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) chairman Tan Sri Razali Ismail said this, along with the lack of a clear definition on what documents can be classified are to be blamed for Malaysians' negative perception of the act.

"In the OSA, which was enacted to protect official secrets and official documents, there are no substantive definition of either of those terms.

"There are also no procedure nor regulation to control ministers or public officers' power to classify a document as secret, and this created the perception that provisions under OSA can be abused, with virtually all government documents falling under the act," he said, here, today.

Razali said this during a roundtable discussion on the access to information in Malaysia organised by Suhakam.

He said while the government might have the need to protect some information on the basis of national security, OSA must never be used to prohibit the sharing of information.

Razali also cried foul over the use of the act to criminalise not only primary, but also secondary disclosure of classified information, noting how it has led to several arrests under the act over the years.

Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4) founding chairman Tan Sri Simon Sipaun, in echoing Razali's statement, said it is high time for the OSA to be amended to make the definition of official secret more clearly defined.

"This is so that not everything the government wants to hide can be an official secret," he said.

Simon added that there should also be a time frame of how long a document can stay secret and classified before it is made public.