Strengthen the ombudsman for a better Malaysia

PRIME Minister (PM) Anwar Ibrahim’s initiative to get the Auditor-General (AG) to take on the role of an ombudsman is timely in a country where abuses of public funds has become a norm.

Despite the reprimands and recommendations made in the AG’s Report every year, ministry and department officials at both federal and state levels are not bothered.

With just a mere smack on the wrist for their wrongdoing, errant officers get away with their poor performance and their failures reflect badly on the government of the day.

Just name one PM – past or present – who was able to raise the quality of services in our civil servants. None!

This is why apart from setting up the ombudsman services, the unity government should put the necessary punitive measures to resolve public complaints of “mal administration” or “grievances” within the public service.

The parliamentary bill on Ombudsman which is slated for tabling in October by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform) Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said is a good start.

But the other laws relating to other agencies providing the ombudsman services such as the Tribunal for Consumer Claims, SUHAKAM (Human Rights Commission), Commission of Building and Public Complaints Bureau, among others should be further reinforced to allow for punitive measures to be taken if civil servants consistently underperform.

Take for example, complaints by residents of Laman Rimbunan in Kepong about the stench from a nearby solid waste disposal station was reported to the mayor of Kuala Lumpur Datuk Seri Kamarulzaman Salleh.

Datuk Seri Kamarulzaman Salleh

His response could have at least been more re-assuring to complainants, instead of just saying, “At this stage, the Kuala Lumpur City Hall can only direct the contractor involved at the transfer station via Alam Flora to take preventive action. This is because the said contractor is appointed by the Local Government and Development ministry.”

Meanwhile, efforts made by FocusM to reach out to the minister concerned, Nga Kor Ming, have yet to receive any positive response.

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Under such circumstances, it is the residents who have to bear with the stench. In fact, they have been bearing with this stench for over 25 years, complained resident Leong Kum Fatt.

“I am also one of the residents who are getting the foul smell from garbage (multi-types), stench from the metro pond, people burning rubbish and plastic wastes in the neighbourhood … Where on earth can I complain?” Leong asked.

“The stench comes on and off,” added resident Chan Chum. “Depending on the wind direction and the rain. It happens either in the morning before my work or after work in the evening.”

Fellow resident Datuk KP Go said he had made numerous complaints but all have fallen on deaf ears.

For that length of time – and two decades and a half is not a short time –the whole system of governance appears to be dysfunctional and lacking in customer focus. Complaints are met with no solutions.

The frustrations expressed by these few citizens have been highlighted by the media throughout the country.

For example, after an issue with the re-location of road sign was highlighted to Selayang Municipal Council, all that its engineer responded was to provide pictures showing base of the road sign being given a proper levelling. This was not the issue raised.

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Since the same complaints to even elected representatives, state exco and Menteri Besar have also fallen on deaf ears, the question is, “Where is the Ombudsman?”

Ombudsman in other countries

In Australia, the first ombudsman was set up in West Australia in 1971, followed by a few other ombudsman in other states. Their job is similar to the Malaysian Public Complaints Bureau but cover a wider scope including reviewing investigations conducted by the Australian Federal Police.

In Malaysia, there are already existing ombudsman agencies such as the Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM) which protects human rights. The establishment of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) has been a hot topic for many years, but yet to be set up.

There is also the Commissioner of Building (COB) which was supposed to settle the disputes between property owners and their management committees. However, most complaints ended up with the complainants disappointed with the COB.

Call it by any name, ombudsman, amhaeng-eosa (암행어사, 暗行御史) in ancient China and Korea, the Roman Tribune, Diwān al-Maẓālim (دِيوَانُ الْمَظَالِمِ) Qaḍī al-Quḍāt (قَاضِي الْقُضَاةِ), the Ombudsman Act must further enhance the powers to mete out a hefty penalty on public officials who fail in their duty or else it would be just another toothless tiger. – Sept 6, 2023

Pic credits: The Star

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