Tuesday, February 06, 2007

OSA DISMANTLES ANY HOPE FOR DEMOCRATIC REFORMS

By : MOHAMED HANIPA BIN MAIDIN

It all started when the government allowed the toll hikes. The thinking citizens led by opposition parties and reliable NGOs protested. The toll hikes simply means government is siding towards the toll concessionaire and in turn punishing the people on the street.

The government on the other hand says its hand are tied down as it is bound by the terms of a concession agreement entered into with the cash rich concessionaire. If that is the reason, argued rakyat, we have the right to know the contents of the agreement. After all we are the real sufferers of the toll hikes.

Even though rakyat are not the parties to the agreement, it must be borne in mind that the government represents them in striking a deal with these corporate predators. When the agreement was drafted, the government was certainly duty bound to ensure the terms of the agreement were favourable to rakyat. If the terms of the agreement were unfair and burdensome to the people, they are definitely entitled to demand necessary response from the government.

Rakyat have the rights to be shown the contents of the agreement to satisfy themselves that the terms contained in the agreement were absolutely fair and just. The government on the other hand has the duty to show it to rakyat as the former only came into being with the latter’s votes.

Despite such a reasonable demand to disclose the contents of the agreement the government persistently refuse to do so. When reasonable request is not entertained it is within one’s expectation that people may use unpopular methods to obtain a copy of the agreement. Several opposition leaders bravely let the people know that they have a copy of such agreement. Everyone knows that they were not actuated by malice in disclosing this vital information to the public. They just played a role as concerned citizens. They want rakyat to engage with the government in a more meaningful way by knowing the contents of the agreement.

Instead of engaging with people and showing some form of transparency in dealing with this issue the relevant ( or irrelevant ) Minister chided the opposition leaders and warned them that Official Secret Act ( OSA ) would be used against them. This piece of draconian law is yet again used to silence the bona fide whistle blowers.

Rakyat are undoubtedly perplexed by this latest desperate attempt of Barisan Nasional ( BN ) to use the obnoxious Act in order to criminalize the truly concerned citizens who question a piece of the private concession agreement. Yes OSA may be necessary to protect any highly official documents where a security of a state is at stake. But please do not insult our intelligence by saying such a private agreement which enrich the toll concessionaire and make life of ordinary people so miserable is also protected by this draconian piece of legislation.

The latest episode proves beyond reasonable doubt that the fundamental right of freedom of speech enshrined in Article 10 (1) (c) of the Federal Constitution has been subject to so many constitutionally authorized inroads as to become devoid of reality .Against the tide of governmental interference and despotism, this basic right is proving like dykes of straw. This right has been deprived of all meaning and significance by the repressive OSA. Perhaps, never before has Malaysian felt, as now, so helpless in confrontation with the power and weight of BN’s government . Unfortunately the constitutional supremacy provides little safeguard against the continuation of this trend.

Our hope law to act as a shield of the ordinary men on the street against the powers that hurt or threaten them remains a false one. It turns to despair now. Whilst law is both a limit on power and a power-conferring instrument , those in power prefer the second aspect. Yet for the ordinary rakyat it is only the first aspect which provides the means for protecting the week from the onslaught of the strong.