Contested Official Information Bill withdrawn from Cabinet

The Anti-Corruption Organization of Thailand (ACT) says that the government has withdrawn a controversial Official Information Bill from the Cabinet for reconsideration.

File Photo

In to his Facebook post on 9 June, ACT Secretary-General Mana Nimitmongkol suggested replacing the draft with either the draft from the National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA) or a new draft made with the participation of civil society, mass communication academics and members of the press. The draft should also be in line with constitutional values and the resolutions of the NRSA.

The Secretary-General also expressed his gratitude to Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam and his assistant Dr Ronnapob Patthamadit for arranging the consultation session to hear the concerns of anti-corruption organizations over the draft details.

The current Official Information Act B.E. 2540 (1997) mandates the Thai authorities to make official information public, either by publishing it or making it accessible upon request. Disclosure of information on topics deemed sensitive, such as the monarchy, national security or private information, can be withheld for a period of 20-75 years.

The draft amendment considered expanding the criteria of information that can be withheld and prescribing legal punishment for anyone disclosing prohibited information. Section 8 of the draft also attracted interest for stating that information about royal security cannot be disclosed.

New Official Information Law allows more government secrecy

In a protest on 28 May, the Association of Journalism Students, a coalition of mass communication students from several universities, submitted to the Chair of the Committee on Political Development, Mass Communications and Public Participation of the House of Representatives their objections to the Official Information Bill. The petition carried 17,798 signatures collected on change.org over the last month.

Nakorn Serirak, a lecturer from Khon Kaen University and a former expert on the Information Board, expressed his concern in an interview in April that the draft amendment would reduce the freedom to access official information of Thais and also hand an excuse for the government to withhold information.

“The concept or philosophy of the Information Law in fact is not about official information but the principle is about Freedom of Information. It is held to be a law that ensures the people’s right to know, not regulations on securing official secrets.”

“But those who designed the law just put regulations for managing official secret documents in Sections 13/2 to 13/7 which is very unusual,” said Nakorn.

“Ideally, the one to enforce this [Official Information] law should be an independent organization like the Election Commission (EC) or National Anti-Corruption Commission. I think it must be taken out of the PM’s office. If it cannot be made independent like the EC or NACC, it must be put under the oversight of the National Human Rights Commission, which is not a government organization, or under the Office of the Ombudsman.

Source: 
prachatai.com/journal/2021/06/93438

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