THE government’s decision to set up the Ombudsman Malaysia and Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) is a progressive move for the nation.
Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has announced that the Public Complaints Bureau will be known and function as Ombudsman Malaysia and an Ombudsman Act will be drafted to ensure a more effective management of public complaints in Malaysia.
The Cabinet has also agreed to turn the Enforcement Agency Integrity Commission (EAIC) into IPCMC which will act as an independent monitoring body that is more holistic.
It is a timely move to address public grievances against any public authority in line with the new government’s emphasis on improving service delivery and fighting corruption in the interest of the public.
I hope more efforts could be made to reduce bureaucratic red tape and improve administrative efficiency in all government departments and agencies.
On this score, the setting up of the ombudsman system will be a step in the right direction to address all public grievances against all departments and agencies.
Ombudsman is derived from the Swedish word meaning “grievance person” or “representative or agent of the people”.
It is also referred in Oxford Dictionary as the “people’s defender” and he or she is appointed to safeguard the citizens against abuse or misuse of administrative power by executive.
They are a citizen’s friend and protector entrusted with enquiring personally into alleged wrongs inflicted on the man in the street by a range of public authorities.
In the early 1970s, Malaysia had wanted to consider such a system and had in fact studied the New Zealand ombudsman model with a view towards its implementation. However, it was shelved and in its place the Public Complaints Bureau was set up.
The idea to set up an Ombudsman was again highlighted during the era of Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi when he was prime minister from 2003 to 2009 but it did not materialise.
I am happy that the past proposals are bearing fruit as we need both of the Ombudsman and IPCMC which I have been advocating for many years.
These reforms would help improve the image of the country as complaints will be handled by an independent body.
Almost all developed countries have an Ombudsman.
In Australia, it helps investigate the government, public schemes, private education providers and private health insurance while in New Zealand, it protects the rights of whistleblowers, and monitors detention camps and disability conventions. It also investigates complaints against state agencies and initiates investigations.
In Sweden or New Zealand, ombudsmen are government officials appointed to receive and investigate complaints made by individuals against abuses or capricious acts of public officials.
We are now more open to such a concept, with the Ombudsman for Financial Services having already started on Oct 1, 2016.
Bank Negara Malaysia gave its approval for the new body under the Financial Services Act 2013 and Islamic Financial Services Act 2013.
As an independent redress mechanism for financial consumers, it will provide a fair and efficient avenue for financial consumers to resolve disputes against financial service providers.
Under the existing system being practised in other countries, the ombudsmen could either be appointed by the government or Parliament.
We are looking forward to seeing how this system could be implemented to bring about the institutional reforms which should make all our government institutions truly independent and professional to serve the desired objectives.