Uphold transparency in management of ombudsman

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The Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4 Center) welcomes the announcement by Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob on the progress of the Ombudsman Bill.

The legislation must be immediately established in Malaysia to address maladministration and enhance integrity and governance in public complaints matters.

The need for an ombudsman is long overdue given that 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 close an eye to such immorality being carried out under their noses.

Several main area, such as the public procurement sector, for instance, have been plaguing Malaysian businesses for decades. There are those who have been trying so hard to penetrate the space and failed due to the widespread culture of cronyism and the flourishing of “cartels” that monopolise government projects and contract awards.

Cancerous systemic corruption

Last year alone, the auditor general’s report found 153 audit issues (in the year 2019 Series 1): 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 procurement continues to be subjected to overpricing, 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 administration in 2018. Our determination to walk through this will not be deterred by any given circumstances, political or not, that befall the nation.

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Any further delay is unacceptable

The Covid pandemic, not to mention the period of disturbing political developments that hit the nation hard, has 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 that many have aspired for the nation since the 2018 general election.

At the advent of Prime Minister Ismail Sabri’s confirmation that the Ombudsman Bill would be tabled by next year, C4 Center will hold him 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.

Common feature in developed democracies

An ombudsman is appointed by and acts on behalf of 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 not been implemented in Malaysia because the Public Complaints Bureau under the Prime Minister’s Department is still in place.

While the ombudsman institutions 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.

The first public sector ombudsman was appointed by the parliament of Sweden of 1809, and it was responsible for protecting individual rights against the excesses of the bureaucracy.

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The ombudsman concept spread through Europe, followed by the North American continent, with the first offices being set up in the mid-1960s at a time when it faced exposure of government secrecy and scandals. The civil rights and good government movement in the US then created an openness in 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. It also protects the rights of the people and, above all, ensures that everyone is treated in all fairness and equality.

Where Malaysia is still reviewing the setting up of ombudsman institutions, C4 reiterates the inclusion of the following features to ensure the ombudsman’s strength and independence:

  • The status and criteria for ombudsman must be set up as an independent body
  • The 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
  • The powers and jurisdiction of the ombudsman as well as the wrongdoings (in public service) should be subjected to punitive actions under a specific law
  • The findings of investigations (especially those involving the public interest) must be made public
  • The mechanism for the preparation of Budget allocations for the ombudsman, must be through Parliament.

We believe that the ombudsman office, if operationalised well, will greatly assist other investigative institutions to function more efficiently.

Therefore, we urge that the bill be passed through the legislature without further delay.

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It must start operating as an independent and uncompromising institution that has the authority and power to probe malpractices committed by our civil servants by 2022. Period.

That said, C4 Center offers itself to add to the discussion to propel the advancement of this legislation.

Public participation holds an important place as part of the endeavours that should be promoted to safeguard good governance and transparency. – C4 Center

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