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MGG: The Public Complaints Bureau And The Ombundsman
By M.G.G. Pillai

1/1/2002 10:51 am Tue

The director-general of the Public Complaints Bureau, Dato' Abdul Wahab Abdullah, thinks his bureau would do better if only the public use it more often. Mr Lee Lam Thye thinks it already is and should now be renamed the Ombundsman's office. Both miss the woods for the trees. The public would use it if it has time to waste and infinite patience. I know one whose bruising meetings with the PCB remain unresolved a decade later; no one now is interested in it any more, every officer passing the buck and wishing the man would disappear. I warned him it would come to this but he, ever the optimist, went ahead and its end is not in sight. Mr Lee thinks an ombundsman would not allow this to happen. He indulges in gobbledygook, spurious statistics, and a firm belief that what newly appointed heads of government say on taking office must be true. Nothing could be further than the truth. He does not understand or accept that an ombundsman can do his work only if the civil service would let him.

And the Malaysian Civil Service is not about to. If a ministry or department does not respond, it has no recourse. In the past two decades, I have used it three times; in one, I was told that it would be resolved if the man on whose behalf I approached would get his artificial leg if only he would convert to Islam; in another, the file disappeared after four years; and the third withdrew his complaint after five years. The PCB is a government department for timeserving civil servants; it exists to make life difficult for those who cross its path. Mr Lee's column in the New Straits Times today views it in its image, not what it set out to do. Few know it exists. If you want the PCB to be known so the public could refer complaints to it, its presence must be made known to the public in every government department and office that deals with the public. It is not. It is only known now to those who know of it.

The public therefore adopts the usual time-honoured Bolehland method of conflict resolution: money changes hands, and the matter resolved without hassle. The government insists this is corruption, the public resort to it for its efficiency. Since the recipients are civil servants, no one talks of it. The government proclaims its high ideals and ignores the corruption, the public view that as low morals in a corrupt government. This inefficiency breeds corruption. which spreads to the PCB, and its companionn body, the Anti-Corruption Agency. It is the public, not the official, view which decides if its does its job.

When statistics is what makes a department effective, it is fair to say it is not. Let us take the police. Does the public have any faith in it? No. In any case it registers against the government, especially politicians, it acts as the government thinks. Look at how it sold its soul in how it dealt with the Anwar Ibrahim affair. The Inspector-General of Police went to jail for beating up the former deputy prime minister. One goes to the police station these days only when one has no choice. The police would not interfere in, for instance, domestic violence, or in an accident when the other party did not report it, and when its presence would exert a calming influence.

The PCB is fallen into the malaise of an adminisration which drifts because political leaders are more concerned of their future than the country. The civil service and government go their separate ways, and in this near anarchic conditions, nothing functions as it should. This would continue until a political resolution on the future and fate of UMNO is resolved. The Prime Minister is reduced to ordering, asking, hectoring, and the others to make sure they would remain in any administration even if their sell by date expired years ago. In this mess, the PCB proclaims its efficiency and good work. Dato' Wahab may be a brilliant civil servant able to lift the PCB from its dregs into the forefront of Malaysian public institutions, but if he is that brilliant, why is he where he is? Mr Lee Lam Thye notwithstanding.

M.G.G. Pillai