Sarawak to set up Malaysia’s first ombudsman institution

KUCHING: Sarawak will be the first state in Malaysia to set up an ombudsman institution to provide independent oversight of the state's public service agencies.

This comes after the Sarawak Legislative Assembly unanimously approved the Sarawak Ombudsman Bill on Monday (Nov 20).

Deputy Premier Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan said establishing the ombudsman elevates the accountability standards in public administration and provides measures against maladministration by state public service agencies.

He said the Bill would enhance transparency and accountability in government agencies by allowing the public to report maladministration to the ombudsman.

"The ombudsman will ensure check-and-balance elements are in place and will enable the government to improve its public delivery systems and procedures.

"This will lead to a better administration and increase public trust and respect in the government," he said when tabling the Bill.

Awang Tengah said the Sarawak ombudsman would comprise a chief ombudsman, deputy chief, and three to five other ombudsmen to be appointed by the Yang di-Pertua Negeri for a three-year term, with the possibility of reappointment.

He said the ombudsman would be empowered to investigate complaints and to form an investigation committee if necessary.

"Notwithstanding any complaint, the ombudsman may initiate any action on its own if it thinks it is necessary in the rakyat's interests," he said.

In addition, the Bill made it an offence to give false information to the ombudsman intentionally, fail to appear upon receiving notice, exercise improper influence, obstruct the ombudsman in carrying out its duties, commit contempt towards the ombudsman, and make misrepresentation.

It proposed penalties of fines from RM10,000 to RM50,000 and imprisonment of six months to three years for the offences.

In addition, the Bill required the ombudsman to submit reports to the Sarawak Legislative Assembly on its activities and the result of any enquiries, including findings, recommendations and opinions.

"This ensures that the ombudsman's findings are transparent and accessible to the public, and this august House has oversight over the performance of the ombudsman and the actions or activities undertaken by him in pursuance of the provisions of the new law," Awang Tengah said.

"It portrays the independence of the ombudsman’s institution, which is free from any interference, whether political or otherwise."

To an issue raised by Chong Chieng Jen (DAP-Padungan) when debating the Bill, Awang Tengah said government-linked companies (GLCs) were not left out from the application of the law.

"The definition of public service agency under clause 2 of the Bill is all-encompassing," he said.

Chong had asked whether GLCs were subject to investigation and scrutiny by the ombudsman.

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