Freedom of Information in the World
According to Global Right to Information Rating, there are 129 countries with Freedom of Information Acts (FOIAs) as of 2019.
Freedom of Information in the Region
Freedom of information is not an alien concept to countries in Asia. Of the approximately 50 countries in Asia, around 30 have introduced FOIAs. Closer to home, the following Southeast Asian countries have FOIAs: Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, East Timor, and Vietnam.
In India, the Right to Information Act 2005 was created for citizens ‘to secure access to information under the control of public authorities, in order to promote transparency and accountability in the working of every public authority’. Public authorities under the Act include non-governmental organisations which receive substantial direct or indirect funding from the Indian central or state governments. Indian citizens can request for information in any form from these authorities without needing to provide justification. Requestors must, however, pay a fee of ₹10 (SGD 0.20) for each request they make.
Malaysia does not have a federal Freedom of Information Act. However, the states of Selangor and Penang have state-level freedom of information enactments (FOIE). The FOIEs fulfil the same functions as a national FOIA, albeit applying only to information held by the respective state authorities. Furthermore, it appears that the Malaysian federal government is currently working to introduce a national FOIA.
Freedom of Information in Singapore
Currently, Singapore does not have a Freedom of Information Act. Singaporeans can access public data at data.gov.sg, singstat.gov.sg, or the websites of the various public bodies. Information not found on these platforms must be requested for, and approval of these requests is subjected to the discretion of the public body.
Some citizens have raised the idea of introducing a Singaporean FOIA. Journalist Kirsten Han made such a call during the Select Committee hearing on deliberate online falsehoods. Han noted that FOIAs help “strengthen public trust” and prevent the formation of “information vacuum[s]” that can breed falsehoods and disinformation.
The Workers’ Party (WP) also supports a Singaporean FOIA, with the party including calls for such legislation in its 2006 and 2011 manifestos. More recently, WP Secretary-General, Pritam Singh, spoke in Parliament on the need for such a law, noting that in the current information environment “it is the government that decides what it wants to put out”.
To level the information playing field, Singh called for a FOIA that would “allow any Singaporean citizen to make enquiries with any public body for statistics and information, at a reasonable price”. Meanwhile, Singh acknowledged that any new law would need to account for national security, and that exceptions will need to be created for sensitive data. He noted that such exceptions “are routinely scheduled in Freedom of Information legislation elsewhere”.