S’wak passes M’sia’s first ombudsman law to allow public to report maladministration by civil service

Awang Tengah tables Sarawak Ombudsman Bill, 2023 in Sarawak Legislative Assembly (DUN) sitting on Nov 20, 2023.

By Shikin Louis

KUCHING, Nov 20: The Sarawak Ombudsman Bill 2023, which seeks to allow the public to report maladministration by the Sarawak public service agencies to the ombudsman, has been passed unanimously in the Sarawak Legislative Assembly (DUN) today.

The bill was tabled earlier by Deputy Premier Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan.

During his winding-up speech, Awang Tengah responded to the issue that Padungan assemblyman Chong Chieng Jen raised on whether government-linked companies (GLCs) are subject to investigation and scrutiny by the Ombudsman.

“I wish to state that the definition of ‘public service agency’ under clause 2 of the bill is all-encompassing wherein all the GLCs, including SFS Inc., come under the limb of (1) Government agencies; (2) public service agency that carries public services functions under the State; and (3) any office including its officers, employees, servants, representatives and agents where emoluments derived from the State revenues, whether wholly or partly.

“Therefore, GLCs are not left out from the application of this law,” he said.

On the issue raised regarding clauses 34(2) and 35 on the right to remain silent and power of arrest, Awang Tengah clarified that the procedures in both clauses are meant for investigating offences under the Ordinance, and it is not an investigation of a complaint.

“These clauses are similar to the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) provisions, especially Section 112 for the principle against self-incrimination. This principle is of universal application practised worldwide,” he added.

On the issue of the exclusion under the Second Schedule of the Bill, he said references are made to Ombudsman laws in Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, British Columbia (Canada), Hong Kong, Australia, New South Wales, and the Philippines, among others wherein they also do not subject the Kings, Member of Parliament, etc. under the jurisdiction of their Ombudsman.

Additionally, he pointed out that the ministers and deputy ministers are not public servants as other laws govern them, such as the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) Act 2009, Penal Code, etc.

Awang Tengah also mentioned that the reports of the activities of the Ombudsman and on the investigation will be fully published and be laid in the DUN, including any finding, recommendation, and opinion of the Ombudsman.

“Also, a Special Select Committee may be appointed upon a motion made under Standing Order to consider any matter arising from the report. Unlike the Public Account Committee (PAC), the report made by the Ombudsman has legal force,” he emphasised.

Following the bill’s passing, Sarawak is officially the first State to introduce an ombudsman ordinance and system in Malaysia.

The ombudsman law ensures check-and-balance elements are in place and will enable the government to improve its public delivery systems and procedures, which will lead to a better administration and increase the public’s trust and respect in the government. — DayakDaily