|Get rid of the OSA
That sections of the government are relying on the Official Secrets Act (OSA) to keep secret activities which are NOT detrimental to the security of the country is very evident. The police are pursuing a case where an agreement said to be between the government and a toll-road operator has been made public.How could the country’s security be threatened by merely disclosing the terms of an agreement between the toll-road operator and the government?
In fact such a disclosure would help to answer the question of whether the government has been too generous in favour of toll-road operators when the agreements were signed. It will be in the public interest that such documents were made public.
But the OSA of 1972, amended to give it draconian powers in 1987, not only forces a mandatory jail sentence of at least a year on offenders but basically leaves the definition of an official secret purely in the hands of the government and its officers.
Thus, there is no bearing whatsoever on the security of the country whether a piece of information is classified as secret or not. The courts are prevented from making any ruling on this under Section 16A, “Certificate by a public officer to be conclusive evidence.”
Under this section, “A certificate by a minister or a public officer charged with any responsibility in respect of any ministry, department or any public service or the mentri besar or the chief minister of a state or by the principal officer in charge of the administrative affairs of a state certifying to an official document, information or material that it is an official secret shall be conclusive evidence that the document, information or material is an official secret and shall not be questioned in any court on any ground whatsoever.”
In other words, anything, including the number of cups coffee consumed in a government canteen, can be classified as an official secret if the government so desired.
It is time we got rid of this act which does hardly anything to protect the official secrets which may endanger the security of the country. Instead it gives much leeway for government officials at all levels to hide their inefficiency and corruption, making a mockery of the declared aim of making ours an open society.
In its place we should have a Freedom of Information Act, much like in countries such as India, which would guarantee the public the right to information about the government in all aspects except those which must be kept secret for the sake of the security of the country.
The paradigm shift to a culture of openness and accountability took place in most of the world many years ago. But we not only continue to keep outdated and draconian legislation in the statute books but allow government officials to blatantly use it to suppress information which should legitimately be in the public domain.
That is truly deplorable and needs instant remedy through the legislature.