A Select Committee was set up by the Penang State Government to look into matters pertaining to the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill comprising of 6 members including three from UMNO.
However, the State’s effort in mediating middle ground to get public feedback was thwarted as all three members from UMNO failed to attend the two full-day meetings with the various organizations from all around Penang; citing reasons like having other meetings and falling sick. The meetings were slated for 14th and 21st of February.
The Penang FOI Bill was copied en bloc from the current Selangor FOI Bill.
According to Penang Chief Minister, Lim Guan Eng, this was because the State Legal Advisor had initially opposed the proposal of an FOI Bill claiming that it was unconstitutional. Regardless, Penang followed suit soon after the Selangor FOI was passed and tabled the bill for first reading at the State Assembly.
Lim said that the State Legal Advisor had claimed that information is a federal jurisdiction and not under the purview of the State.
“When it is unconstitutional it cannot be tabled at the state assembly,” Lim pointed out.
“…the tabling of the bill must also have the concurrence of the State Legal Advisor. When Selangor passed the bill, we asked the State Legal Advisor that ‘if Selangor can do it, why can’t we?’”
“It was only then that she agreed and it was only then that in order to avoid the bill not being tabled at the State Assembly; we adopted in total the Selangor FOI bill,” he continued, contending that this was a window of opportunity to get the co-operation of the State Legal Advisor.
Lim agrees that the Selangor FOI bill has its shortcoming and needs some improvement. He explained that that was the reason why the State set up a Select Committee to get feedback from the public – so that the State Assembly is able to make the necessary amendments thereafter.
He also reiterated the State’s reason for not first getting public feedback before tabling the bill at the State Assembly as such a move would only be met with disapproval, since it would still ‘seem’ unconstitutional at such a time.
“That is also why we adopted the Selangor FOI bill 100%, to avoid being unconstitutional,” he added.
Lim questions the sincerity of BN with regards to the FOI bill saying that if they were sincere they would have presented it in parliament.
Members from the state opposition party had expressed dissatisfaction over certain clauses in the Penang FOI bill, claiming that it curbed information rather than allowing it.
“We are sincere in pushing this (FOI) through. That is why we are getting public feedback instead of just passing the bill,” Lim emphasized, asserting that the State Government practices ‘participatory democracy’ as promised, yet they were being criticized.
In closing, Lim reprimanded the opposition for confusing the public and for being a hypocrite. He also challenges them to pass the FOI act in parliament.
“Beranikah? Beranikah?” Lim poses the question to Gerakan and MCA. (“Do you dare to? Do you dare to?”)