Our Freedom of Information (FOI) project is was featured on Oriental Daily newspaper recently regarding FOI implementation in Penang where we shared that Penang FOI Enactment 2010 does not comply with international guidelines but also adds arbitrary provisions that restricts freedom of expression of the public to share documents
Penang FOI Enactment doesn’t comply to international definitions due to multiple exceptions that restrict access to information such as minutes of state executive committee decisions and their justifications (MTES). Unlike the Selangor FOI Enactment, there are no penalties for information officers of Penang state government agencies that do not comply with FOI requests that are valid under the enactment.
Recently the Penang Executive council added further restrictions for the FOI request procedure with conditions that limit freedom of expression by requiring the public to sign a statutory declaration to agree not to copy or quote the received documents, or make any modifications on the document for purpose of negative statements against the state government. This is against international principles.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression has laid down a number of general principles regarding the right to freedom of information in his report on “Civil and Political Rights Including the question of: Freedom of Expression” for which one of the principles states that,
“A refusal to disclose information may not be based on the aim to protect Governments from embarrassment or the exposure of wrongdoing; a complete list of the legitimate aims which may justify non-disclosure should be provided in the law and exceptions should be narrowly drawn so as to avoid including material which does not harm the legitimate interest.”
A copy of the example declaration and translations of relevant parts:
2. I will use the document for my said purposes and it is for my own personal research
3. I will not make any copies in any form or duplicate the document
4. I will not modify any part of the document for purpose of giving negative impression of the state government
6. I make this declaration as guarantee that it is for my own personal reference and research only
*Update: The line “cannot quote to make any negative comments” has been amended to match the SD text accurately. The requirements of the declaration to force requesters to sign a declaration to not disclose information to any third party, copy, or make any amendments of any sort on the received document that could cause negative perceptions still holds true and is against the spirit of an Freedom of Information.