April 15, 2006
I was graciously invited by Cynthia Gabriel to join her in a panel discussion last night. Hosted and interviewed by Gayathry from CIJ (Centre of Independent Journalism), we spent about half an hour in verbal banter on a hot topic of the day! Freedom of Information in Malaysia, or the lack thereof.
It was an interesting session, me not having had any experience whatsoever in being a panelist for the public. Cynthia was the former Executive Director of SUARAM, Malaysia's Human Rights group (Suara Rakyat Malaysia: Malaysian Citizens' Voice). She currently leads the Freedom of Information Coalition, a network of NGOs and groups that are advocating for maximum information disclosure at all levels.
She cited examples of how the lack of information leads to bad governance. And why quote the Official Secrets Act for issues that citizens have a right to access information for? Pertinent examples would be water and health. She mentioned that Malaysians continue to live in an environment of secrecy and fear, where something as simple as Air Quality was for so long hidden from us.
Coming from a Research Centre myself, I spoke about practical problems faced when trying to access data and statistics. The first problem is the inconsistency of data definition in tables released by official departments. This makes it difficult to make cross-comparisons between categories, and time analyses. Secondly, access to information is a problem, where the Ninth Malaysia Plan is singularly available at one shop, which is difficult to get to (near Sungai Besi). (But go and get a copy if you can, expensive though: RM80) Finally, I concluded by saying that Freedom of Information will allow for better quality research, which will in turn contribute to better governance; on both the government and corporate fronts.
What we agreed upon was that there's lots of education, training and increasing awareness to be done, convincing civil servants and the public that FoI will in fact benefit everyone! When there's accessibility to information, this provides a feedback mechanism for government and corporate agencies to improve themselves further. If citizens give positive feedback based on this information, then by all means they ought to be happy about it! Why fear when you're doing your duty correctly, right? Anyway, onto the recording.
If I talk too fast and sound very excitable, it's because I am.
If I sound inexperienced on this topic, it's because I am.
But I'm ready and willing to learn! You can't fault that.
Here's the link to the radio panel discussion: Click Here. It will later be available on radio stations.
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