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Time for an Ombudsman, says think tank

 | February 28, 2017

IDEAS says an independent Ombudsman responsible to Parliament should replace the Public Complaints Bureau which is ultimately responsible to the executive, for better check and balance.

wan-saifulPETALING JAYA: The Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) says a new office should be created to replace the Public Complaints Bureau (PCB) to ensure there is no corruption or abuse of power.

In a statement today, IDEAS chief executive Wan Saiful Wan Jan said although the PCB investigated and addressed public complaints against officials in government departments and agencies, it lacked independence and transparency.

This was because the department itself was part of the Prime Minister’s Department, he said.

“It reports directly to the Permanent Committee which is staffed by senior members of the civil service. The Permanent Committee in turn is responsible to the Cabinet.”

Furthermore, he said, the PCB could not report and make recommendations to Parliament. Neither could it make matters public to the media, he noted.

“This arrangement ultimately makes the PCB responsible to the executive, and this is a clear conflict of interest.”

Instead of the PCB, Wan Saiful said a new office of the Ombudsman should be put into place to ensure a body that was truly independent of the executive.

He said the Ombudsman’s role would be to ensure there was no abuse of power, maladministration and corruption. If such issues did happen, he added, the Ombudsman could take the officers to task and hold them accountable by reporting the matter to Parliament and making the information public.

Wan Saiful said this proposal had been put forth in a new paper released by the think tank, titled, “Upgrading Democracy: Soft Laws and the Ombudsman”.

In it, author Roy Lee highlights the importance of soft law institutions and makes a case for a more independent and transparent Ombudsman to be established in place of the PCB.

The IDEAS chief gave the example of the New Zealand Ombudsman, who, he said, could only be appointed with the consent of all parties in Parliament.

They could report maladministration to Parliament and could even require the government official to publish his or her own department’s error if satisfactory action was not taken to address the complaint, he added.

“A real and functioning democracy requires several institutions and mechanisms to act as a check and balance to the powers of the executive,” Wan Saiful said.

“Soft laws in this sense can help Parliament and the judiciary by setting codes of conduct and processes for addressing any misconduct by public officials.

“We need to start over with a new Ombudsman’s office that is truly independent of the executive. This office is important to restore trust in our current institutions, particularly in the mechanism of check and balance on the executive arm.”



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