Kuala Lumpur, 28 February 2017 – The Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS) has released a new paper calling for the creation of a new Office of the Ombudsman to replace the current Public Complaints Bureau (PCB or Biro Pengaduan Awam), a body that manages complaints against public officials under the Prime Minister’s Department.

In the paper titled “Upgrading Democracy: Soft Laws and the Ombudsman”, 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.

IDEAS Chief Executive, Wan Saiful Wan Jan, commended the proposals in the paper, “A real and functioning democracy requires several institutions and mechanisms to act as a check and balance to the powers of the executive. 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. This is crucial because we cannot rely on courts and the parliament alone to admonish members of the administration. Borrowing an analogy from the paper, that would be like relying on the goalie to make all of the saves in a football match, whilst the defenders sit around and do nothing”.

“The ultimate aim of soft laws is off course to have democratic values like accountability, fairness, independence and transparency infused into the day-to-day actions and decisions of public officers. The Ombudsman, is a crucial form of soft law institution. She is an independent public official who investigates and addresses public complaints against officials in government departments and agencies. The Ombudsman’s role is to ensure that there is no abuse of power, maladministration and corruption, and if such issues do happen, the Ombudsman can take the officers to task and hold them accountable by reporting it to Parliament and making this information public”.

“In Malaysia, although the PCB performs a similar role to the Ombudsman, it is still lacking independence and transparency – key features needed to make it an effective body like the Ombudsman in New Zealand. For example, the New Zealand Ombudsman can only be appointed with the consent of all parties in Parliament. They can report maladministration to Parliament and can even require the government official to publish her own department’s error if satisfactory action is not taken
to address the complaint.”

“Because of their independence the Ombudsman is a positive influence on the conduct of public officials in New Zealand. The PCB on the other hand, is the opposite. Firstly, the department itself is part of the Prime Minister’s Department. It reports directly to the Permanent Committee which is staffed by senior members of the civil service. The Permanent Committee in turn are responsible to Cabinet. Secondly, the PCB cannot report and make recommendations to Parliament nor can they make matters public to the media. This arrangement ultimately makes the PCB responsible to the Executive and this is a clear conflict of interest.”

“In order to address this inherent bias, 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. We also mentioned in our previous study that an Ombudsman could also assist in managing whistleblowers, which is another crucial aspect of governance and anti-corruption”.

The paper and executive summary is attached and can also be downloaded from the IDEAS website: www.ideas.org.my

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