WP: Freedom of Info

Asked by reporters to comment on the Workers’ Party’s proposal in it’s manifesto released last week, to introduce a Freedom of Information Act, Mr Lui said it is not necessary.

This is because the Government already puts up a lot of information on its websites, said Mr Lui during during a visit to Block 49 Sims Place Market and Food Centre, with Minister for Environment and Water Resources Yaacob Ibrahim, MP Denise Phua and People’s Action Party new face Edwin Tong.

They form the likely line-up to contest the new Moulmein-Kallang GRC.

Mr Lui also told reporters that the government has also taken steps to relax several laws on censorship and Internet election advertising.

Noting that several of WP’s ideas are imported from abroad, Mr Lui cautioned against adopting them wholesale as there are serious consequences if they do not work for Singapore.

‘At the end of the day, the road to the abyss is paved with good intentions,’ he said.

(“Not all ideas work for Singapore: Lui“, The Straits Times)

Obviously the Minister doesn’t understand a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Sure, there’s plenty of stuff on government websites…but that’s NOT the point. No doubt the government has a heavy online presence, but it is limited to speeches, press conferences, procedures or policies etc. Yes, anyone through the Internet can find out how to apply for a HDB flat, a business permit, or how to renew his passport. Government websites are designed in a corporate manner, to allow citizens to conduct their ‘business’ on the websites.

These websites introduce the ministries, their visions and missions, organization charts. It is true that anyone with Internet access can find out who is the director of this and this, and even contact him.

But a FOIA is very different. A FOIA means the government is obliged, if a citizen requests, to release any information, except for those relating to national security, law enforcement, individual privacy, internal standard operating procedures for each ministry, sensitive financial records etc. For example, the NEA holds records on dengue ‘hot spots’. Let us assume they are undisclosed, but we know they have such records. Hence a concerned citizen can make a request to the NEA, and the NEA will have to tell him where the dengue hot spots are. NEA can only reject the request if the records are exempted from public access due to national security etc.

Or a historian can request the ISD for files on Operation Spectrum, which arrested alleged Marxists in the late 1980s.  Or a S’porean can ask HDB for records on how much subsidies he receives when he purchases a new flat. You get the drift…

Minister Lui claims many of the Workers’ Party’s ideas are imported, so they are impractical in Singapore. I don’t know how, but expanding the freedom of information access is definitely good for Singaporeans. That is something universal.

If I were given a choice between the PAP and the WP, and the only evaluation criteria is on media, arts and information, I’d support the WP. I mentioned previously that arts licensing and declassification of sensitive records after a set period are two proposals I think are good for Singapore. Now I further support their Freedom of Information Act proposal:

1. We should enact a Freedom of Information Act containing provisions to allow citizens to gather information from the State and to ensure that the government puts out sufficient information.

2. Temporary statistics and information collected by the government, particularly aggregated social statistics, shall, as far as possible, be de-classisfied and made available in the public domain to promote research and informed debate on matters of public interest.
My reasons are simple:
  1. S’poreans have a right to ask the government for records, if the request is reasonable and doable e.g. as the records already exist, it is a matter of publication, not creating new ones.
  2. Availability of information, subjected to some restrictions, creates transparency. This principle should be consistently applied, and not on a case-by-case basis.
  3. Lastly, the government is not a secret keeper. Yes, there are some secrets regarding the military, financial reserves, etc but these are understandable secrets. Other than these, any interested citizen should be able to browse through government files. A government is not a business anyway, so why lock the information up?
The PAP government is too uptight over information rules. It even banned a former leftist’s video, as apparently it hurts public interest. Yet to the historian this video is an important evidence, providing an alternative perspective to the PAP-Singapore Story. And what public interest can the video possibly hurt, when this leftist is aged and powerless?
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2 Comments

Filed under GE 2011, Manifesto

2 responses to “WP: Freedom of Info

  1. probably the problem is this current government think of its policies and directions as a business.

  2. Pingback: Surprises in new Cabinet | Politics

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