Topic: Ombudsman Bill
Coverage by: Independent News Services
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia–The Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4 Center) welcomes the announcement by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri on the progress of the Ombudsman Bill.
The legislation must be immediately established in Malaysia to address maladministration, enhance integrity and governance in public complaints matters.
The need for an Ombudsman is long overdue seeing as the severity of corruption in the country has reached the extent of becoming a top public injustice to the detriment of the nation.
The Malaysian people will no longer bat an eye to condone such immorality being carried out under their noses.
Main areas such as the public procurement sector, for instance, has been plaguing the Malaysian businesses for decades, those who have been trying so hard to penetrate the space and failed due to widespread culture of cronyism and the flourishing of “cartels” that monopolise government projects and contract awards.
Malaysia’s cancerous systemic corruption
Last year alone, the Auditor-General’s report found 153 audit issues in the year 2019 Series 1, whereby 11 were considered to be punitive and actions should be taken by enforcement agencies.
Despite having policies and procedures in place which conform to international standards to a certain extent, public procurements continue to be subjected to over-pricing, cost overruns, delays in completion of projects, low quality of work done and outright corruption.
C4 Center has been demanding the creation of a Public Ombudsman Office going back to the time of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration in 2018, and our determination to walk through this will not be deterred by any given circumstances, political or not, that befall the nation.
Anymore delay to set up Ombudsman Malaysia is unacceptable
The Covid-19 pandemic and, not to be mentioned, the period of disturbing political developments that hit the nation hard had pushed back various key reform areas acutely required to improve the country’s governing system and the overall socio-political and economic situations.
To say the least, these revolting events have inevitably held up the furtherance of the Ombudsman along with other desirable reforms aspired to be had for the nation since the 14th General Election.
At the advent of PM Ismail Sabri’s confirmation that the Ombudsman Bill will be tabled by next year, C4 Center will hold the Prime Minister to account and ensure that the law is enacted at the same time.
Hence, any delays to the legislation of the Act shall no longer be tolerable.
A common feature in developed democracies
An Ombudsman is appointed by and acts on behalf of the Parliament with liberty to investigate complaints against the (government) administration.
It makes recommendations concerning those complaints and proposes recommendations for the latter’s adoption which has so far yet to be implemented in Malaysia because the Public Complaints Bureau (PCB) under the PM Department is still in place.
While the Ombudsman institutions (OIs) are a common feature of most countries’ institutional frameworks, their scope of intervention can differ from one country to another as they are differently contextualised to fit their respective political, institutional, and historical constructs.
Gleaning from its origin, the first public sector ombudsman was appointed by the Parliament of Sweden of 1809 which was responsible for protecting individual rights against the excesses of the bureaucracy.
The ombudsman concept spread through Europe, followed by the North American continent with the first offices being set up in the mid-60s at a time when it faced exposure of government secrecy and scandal. Civil rights and good government movement in the US then created an openness amongst its society where recourse for the aggrieved was subsequently established.
Meanwhile, in New Zealand, the ombudsman is mandated as an investigator and Parliament researcher authorised to hear any matter concerning maladministration. As well, it protects the rights of her people, and above all, ensures that everyone is treated in all fairness and equality.
Where Malaysia is still in the process of reviewing to set up the OI, C4 reiterates the inclusion of the following features to ensure Ombudsman Malaysia’s strength and independence:
1. The status and criteria for Ombudsman must be set up as an independent body;
2. Structure and appointments of the Ombudsman must be free of political interference, and go through a rigorous application and interview process, determined by a Parliamentary Select Committee;
3. The powers and jurisdiction of the Ombudsman as well as the wrongdoing (in public service) to be subjected to punitive actions under a specific Act;
4. Findings of investigations (especially those involving public interest) must be made public; and
5. The mechanism for the preparation of Budget allocations for Ombudsman Malaysia, must be via Parliament.
We believe that the Ombudsman Office, if operationalised well, will greatly assist other investigative institutions to function more efficiently.
Therefore, we urge for the Bill to pass through the legislature without further delay.
It must start operating as an independent and non-compromising institution that has the authority and power to probe malpractices committed by our civil servants by 2022. Period.
Having said that, C4 Center offers itself to add further to the discussion to propel the advancement of this legislature.
Public participation holds an important place as part of the endeavours which should be promoted to safeguard the principles of good governance and transparency.