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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Malice in Blunderland

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OSA - Official Secrets Act. Part of the alphabet soup that forms the pock-marks blemishing Malaysian democracy and transparent governance.

And as reported last Friday, the OSA was once again suggested to the ministerial cabinet to conceal another embarassment - the toll concession agreements. Suggested by none other than the longest serving minister in show biz...

Image hosting by PhotobucketSo says Blunderland's Drama Queen of Blowhards

And now, he wants the head of the person responsible for obtaining the LDP concession agreement. Malaysia Gemilang? Or Malice in Blunderland?

This political bloodlust, despite the fact that the toll concession agreements are clearly not in the favor of the Government, and more importantly, the taxpayers... you know, the one's actually footing the bill. Not once, not twice but in the case of the toll highway users (whom Walski assumes pay taxes), three times.
(more Blunderland malice in the full post)

Why? Okay, first of all we pay tax (on our income and on the goods we buy), which goes into the Government coffers. Secondly, any employee getting allowances for travel will now find that their allowances are also taxable. The allowances, incidentally which are supposed to cover travel expenditures, like tolls. Third, of course, the tolls themselves.

And by the terms of the agreements, if the concessionaires don't get the toll rates that have been stipulated, they are again compensated, by the Government, with what else but public money. And where does the public money come from? Among other sources, taxes.

It appears that the compensation doesn't seem to take into account the fact that these concessionnaires are actually making money off these highways. In fact, lots of money. Someone somewhere (Walski can't remember where exactly) did some calculations, and in the case of the LDP (Puchong-Damansara Highway) the toll revenue collected would have already paid for the cost of constructing the highway. And yet, the concessionnaires want more.

Fortunately, the Official Secrets Act itself is not an official secret. Now, that would have been really funny if it were, eh?

According to Wikepedia, the act defines an official secret as:

...any document specified in the Schedule and any information and material relating thereto and includes any other official document, information and material as may be classified as 'Top Secret', 'Secret', 'Confidential' or 'Restricted', as the case may be, by a Minister, the Menteri Besar or Chief Minister of a State or such public officer (as may be authorised to classify such documents by a Minister, Menteri Besar or Chief Minister)
[source: Wikipedia]

In other words, just about any Tom, Dick or Samy could be given the authority to declare something an official secret. In the same Wikipedia article, some clarity is given to what is covered under the Schedule:

The Schedule to the Act covers "Cabinet documents, records of decisions and deliberations including those of Cabinet committees", as well as similar documents for state executive councils. It also includes "documents concerning national security, defence and international relations"

The toll concession agreements - a threat to national security? What kind of third-rate, world-class clown would even consider a toll concession to be a threat to... oh, yeah... nevermind.

In addition, other "national security threatening" agreements have been shoved under the slimy auspices of the OSA. Like Water Supply concession agreements (via Malaysiakini - subscription required).

It's clear to any thinking individual that shoving such agreements under the OSA only goes to show the government, elected by the people, are in cohoots with big business, not to serve the people, but to screw the people. Exactly whose security are we protecting here by concealing such agreements under the OSA?

The last thing Walski wants is Malaysia to actually become Blunderland. And Walski is definitely not alone in feeling this way. But such lack of transparancy, reinforced no less, will only pave the way towards that very sad path of failed statehood. The proverbial writing, as they say, is already on the wall. In bright, flourescent paint.

But don't just take Walski's word for it. A couple of days ago, this news article came out in Bernama (Malaysian National News Agency), quoting the Chairman of Asian Strategy & Leadership Institute (Asli) Centre for Public Policy Studies, Tan Sri Ramon V. Navaratnam (who incidentally is also President of Transparancy International Malaysia).

"The lack of access to information is a great catalyst for corruption or the perception of corruption, while if a culture of disclosure, as opposed to that of secrecy, is cultivated this will promote public accountability and good governance"

Walski couldn't have put it any better.