End secrecy laws now, reform OSA and protect whistleblowers

The Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4) is shocked by the recent arrest of whistleblower Rafizi Ramli, and strongly condemns the authorities’ rash action.

Rafizi Ramli, the Pandan Member of Parliament (MP), was detained by 10 to 15 policemen while exiting the Parliament building on Tuesday for blowing the whistle on maladministration, and has been remanded for three days to facilitate investigations under Section 8 of the Official Secrets Act (OSA) 1972.

It is shocking to say the least that a member of the esteemed Parliament was taken away like a criminal at the gates of the Parliament for exposing what he believes is a classified document which shows that the controversial 1MDB’s finances had interrupted the Lembaga Tabung Angkatan Tentera’s (LTAT) ability to make gratuity payments in a timely manner.

As a responsible politician, Rafizi exercised his duty to the public by blowing the whistle on what appears to be mismanagement and maladministration, and it should be the authorities’ duty to investigate the alleged misuse of power.

Instead, the whistleblower was arrested and the alleged corruption of power is improperly ignored.

This undemocratic action is in violation of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), which Malaysia signed in 2003 and ratified in 2008.

Article 5 (1) of the UNCAC stipulates that,
Each State Party shall, in accordance with the fundamental principles of its legal system, develop and implement or maintain effective, coordinated anti-corruption policies that promote the participation of society and reflect the principles of the rule of law, proper management of public affairs and public property, integrity, transparency and accountability,

while Article 32 (1) stipulates that,
Each State Party shall take appropriate measures in accordance with its domestic legal system and within its means to provide effective protection from potential retaliation or intimidation for witnesses and experts who give testimony concerning offences established in accordance with this Convention and, as appropriate, for their relatives and other persons close to them.

Criminalising whistleblowers
To the contrary, the OSA obstructs the participation of society as it shields information from the public by means of criminalising whistleblowers who expose corruption and mismanagement to the media and public. By limiting the reporting of corruption to authorities, the OSA promotes an environment that breeds corruption primarily because secrecy allows for cases to be squashed without an explanation.

On the flipside, exposing corruption to the public creates a democratic space which holds the authorities accountable at every stage of the investigation. As such, by criminalising whistleblowers, Malaysia is increasingly losing its credibility as a democratic nation that upholds justice in a transparent and accountable manner, while promoting an atmosphere that accelerates corrupt practices.

Thus, we urge the authorities to stop harassing members of the public and politicians alike, who blow the whistle on corrupt practices that destroys the health of our democracy.

On top of that, we urge the authorities to review the colonial OSA, and draw a moratorium on using it on whistleblowers especially in cases of public interest, which is a prerequisite to any serious endeavour in cutting corruption in this country.

CYNTHIA GABRIEL is executive director and SIMITHA T SINGAM is freedom of information officer, Centre to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4).

https://www.malaysiakini.com/letters/336926