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CIJ welcomes state government's attempts to declassify report on 2008 landslide

(CIJ/IFEX) - 24 November 2009 - The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) applauds the Selangor state government's initiative in demanding that findings of a report into the tragic Bukit Antarabangsa landslide, which occurred on 6 December 2008, be released to the public. The Federal Government is challenging the request, saying the report is classified under the Official Secrets Act (OSA).

Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, Selangor state's Mentri Besar (chief executive), is attempting to use Section 2C of the OSA, which allows ministers and mentris besar to declassify documents, to make public the report that was prepared by the Works Ministry but tabled at the Cabinet. The state government had initially planned for the documents to be made available through the Ampang Jaya Municipal Council (MPAJ), but according to Khalid, the Federal Government has challenged the decision and cautioned the state not to declassify the documents.

For the public and especially families of those who died in the tragic incident, it is illogical that a report detailing the probable causes of the landslide, findings on the safety of the area and possible recommendations for future planning is kept secret, CIJ stressed. The public should question whether the government has something to hide and is avoiding claiming any responsibility. In addition, the public should also question the real reasons the OSA is still defended and used by the Barisan Nasional government where public safety, security and interests have clearly been compromised.

Khalid recently used Section 2(c) to declassify documents to expose three failed joint venture programmes under the tenure of his predecessors in the state.

The documents, referring to a reforestation project, the abandoned Bukit Botak housing project and the land allocation for Felda Bukit Cerakah settlers, showed the extent to which bad governance and the lack of transparency have cost ordinary citizens millions of ringgit. According to CIJ, this is proof that the secrecy law is used to protect the interests of a few and to prevent any public scrutiny of the decision-making process.

These examples are only the tip of the iceberg and CIJ is concerned about the kind of information that has been kept hidden from the public all these years, where tragedies caused by landslides, cracks in highways, water shortages and other public projects that went wrong could have been avoided if there was more transparency.

The time has come for the government to commit to a more open and transparent governance by releasing to the public all documents now classified under the OSA and move towards replacing the law with a Freedom of Information Act. The public must demand these reforms as it is their right to be informed and to know.

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