Eliminating power of arrest renders ombudsman ‘toothless tiger’, law to curb ‘Little Napoleons’

Wilfred Yap

KUCHING, Nov 20: Removing the power of arrest would essentially strip the ombudsman of its enforcement capabilities, turning it into a ‘tiger without teeth’ unable to compel cooperation from parties unwilling to participate in investigations.

Kota Sentosa assemblyman Wilfred Yap argued that this provision is necessary when countering the negative remarks on the proposed Sarawak Ombudsman Bill 2023 by Padungan member Chong Chieng Jen.

He asserted that the power of arrest should remain intact, with its exercise contingent on a reasonable suspicion of a seizable offence.

“The check and balance is already clearly stated in the provision itself and, as such, should be maintained,” he said when debating the Bill tabled by Deputy Premier Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan during the Second Meeting for the Second Term of the 19th Sarawak Legislative Assembly (DUN) Sitting at the DUN Complex today.

On Chong’s concerns that the proposal on the appointment of the Chief Ombudsman on the advice of the Premier in Section 5 would affect the independence of the office of the ombudsman, Yap argued that it would result in the ombudsman being accountable to the Premier and that would affect the accountability and credibility of the office of ombudsman.

“The primary purpose and main objective and focus of the Ombudsman Bill is to prevent maladministration of public agencies where the ombudsman reports directly to this august House. This bill supplements other laws like the MACC (Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission) Act,” he pointed out.

The concept of an ombudsman, Yap elaborated, is not new. Its origin can be traced back to Sweden in 1809 when the Swedish Parliament was the first to appoint an ombudsman as an independent body to investigate and resolve complaints against public authorities.

With this law, he said Sarawakians can look forward to an independent ombudsman entity governed exclusively by law to investigate complaints of maladministration in the public sector.

“The ombudsman reports directly to the DUN, which means no one has the right to influence the ombudsman in performing its functions and tasks fairly and legally.

“This law allows people to submit legitimate complaints against public servants and agencies to the ombudsman, who will conduct fair and unbiased investigations. An ombudsman can investigate, expose and help correct illegal behaviour by public servants. This will help curb abuse of power, corruption, misconduct and dereliction of duties by the ‘Little Napoleons’ in public service by enhancing good governance, which is essential for promoting accountability and transparency,” he added.

‘Little Napoleon’ is a term often used to describe individuals in civil service or government who exhibit authoritarian and controlling behaviour.

Highlighting that the current public perception of elected members often being blamed for not resolving issues, including clogged drains, long grass, potholes on roads, and delayed projects, Yap stressed that this law is timely and, if implemented and enforced correctly, will help tremendously in enhancing performance, responsibilities and duties for efficient delivery of public services to the public.

“So don’t blame the YB (elected members) but lodge complaints to the ombudsman if public agencies and public servants frequently do not respond to complaints made to them through TaliKhidmat or if they do not resolve the issues complained or if they reply with inaccurate responses.

“If necessary, even the YB will also use the ombudsman’s services,” he added.

Yap said this Bill is the first of its kind in Malaysia and shows that the Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) government is serious and committed to public transparency, accountability and maladministration by the State’s public servants and government agencies, public authorities, statutory bodies, local councils that are tasked with implementation and delivery of public projects and services.

“This law is a crucial step towards creating a trustworthy and efficient government,” he added. — DayakDaily