Compiled by Gan Pei Ling / 15 April 2011 © Selangor Times
What is Freedom of Information (FOI) and why do we need laws to ensure it?
As tax- and ratepayers, the public has a right to know how governments use and manage public funds. FOI laws empower the public with access to information, and allow inspection of files and scrutiny of government administration.
In other words, a good FOI law helps promote transparency, accountability and reduce graft.
Does Malaysia has a FOI law?
We do not have a FOI law at the national level, but Selangor passed the FOI Enactment in its state assembly on April 1. It is the first state to do so.
Following Selangor’s footsteps, Penang also tabled its FOI bill in November 2010, but the draft has came under fire from civil societies as lacking in substance.
The Selangor FOI bill also came under severe criticism when it was first tabled in July 2010. However, the legislature appointed a select committee to consult civil societies and civil servants to improve the bill.
An amended version was tabled on March 28 and passed without objection on April 1.
When will Selangor’s FOI Enactment come into force?
Elizabeth Wong, who is leading the Selangor’s FOI taskforce, said it would take around six months for the state to enforce the law.
She said they would need to appoint and train information officers in all relevant bodies to handle information applications, draft the application forms, and set up a fee structure.
Selangor also needs to set up the State Information Board, which would review appeals from applicants whose request for information has been rejected.
Wong, who is also the executive councillor on tourism, consumer affairs and environment, estimated that Selangor would need to allocate RM1 million to enforce the FOI law.
Who will give me information? Is there a fee?
An information officer will be trained and appointed in each department to handle public requests for information. The information officer is required to respond in writing to your application within 30 days from the date of acknowledgement of the application.
Illiterate or people with disabilities may make a verbal request to the information officer, who will then make a written application on behalf of the applicant and provide a copy of it to the applicant.
The fee structure has yet to be ironed out by the state.
What is covered under Selangor’s FOI Enactment?
Once the FOI law comes into force, you can request for information from any state department, local council, or any entity owned or fully controlled by the Selangor government. For example, you can request for information on the state and local councils’ expenditure, tenders awarded, and land transactions.
However, information classified under the federal Official Secrets Act, individuals’ private information, and trade secrets obtained by the state in confidence are exempted under the FOI enactment.
Secrets from states or international organisations may also be kept confidential if its disclosure would affect Selangor’s relations with other states or international organisations.
The information officer may also refuse to disclose information that is likely to severely affect Selangor’s development.
Despite that, information must be provided if there is an overriding public interest that outweighs the risks stated above.
The information officer may also allow access to exempted information if it is required for the investigation of an offence or misconduct.
However, all exemptions lapse after 20 years.
What if my application is rejected, or if I’m not satisfied with the information provided?
You can appeal to the State Information Board, made up of former legal practitioners and independent members, within 21 days after you receive the notice from the information officer.
FOI Enactment (Selangor)
Related post: Greater transparency with Selangor sunshine law