Malaysian Ombudsman: Helping Our Country Navigate Through Perilous Times
by Lim Teck Ghee
Director, Centre for Policy Initiatives (CPI)
I would like to add my voice to that of others who have argued the need for the establishment of a Malaysian Ombudsman to help heal the deep divides are so clearly splitting our country across race, religious and class lines. Few can deny that we live in unprecedented turbulent times. The recent controversies over a range of issues covering so many areas of life – economic, education, administration of law and justice, religious, socio-cultural – all tell of an increasing sense of public frustration and of widely held perceptions of a nation that is losing – if it has not already lost – its sense of direction. There is a grave danger that should we fail to act quickly and decisively, we will not only endanger what we profess to cherish – our unique Malaysian way of life – but also that the country can tip over the brink, and descend into disharmony and harm.
What is common in the dissatisfaction and alienation felt by Malaysians is the sense that there is a lack of redress and absence of recourse for the many troubling disagreements and controversies that are cropping up on an almost daily basis. Racial and religious issues, in particular, are shunted to the side and ignored or funneled through the normal channels of government and politics that have long proven to be ineffectual or are uninterested in finding remedies.
I believe the establishment of a Malaysia Ombudsman can help to lance the boils of hate and anger erupting all around the country. Almost 20 years ago, during a time when racial and religious sentiments were less polarized, the first National Economic Consultative Council (Majlis Perundingan Ekonomi Negara) consisting of 150 prominent Malaysians from all walks of life had recommended to the Government the urgency for a paradigm shift in the handling of national unity. The Council at that time proposed the establishment of a National Unity Advisory Council which would prepare an annual audit of the state of ethnic relations and national unity, and advice Government and the public in this important sphere. The Chairman of the five man steering committee that prepared the consensus NECC report – which included this recommendation – was our present Prime Minister, Pak Lah.
Today, the country needs another paradigm advance in the way we are managing our racial and religious strife. A Malaysian Ombudsman team consisting of three Malaysians who have earned the respect of fellow Malaysians for their integrity, wisdom and ability to rise above their immediate racial and religious affiliation – two from the Peninsular and one from East Malaysia – can be the vital breakthrough in dealing with the many racial and religious issues that bedevil the country. The office of a National Ombudsman through its handling of complaints and grievances related to race and religion can provide that avenue of redress and help to heal our badly frayed social cohesion.
I am sure there are many good Malaysians who would be more than ready and willing to serve the country in this noble cause of advancing racial and religious peace and harmony. Zaid Ibrahim, Shad Saleem Farouki, Raja Petra Kamarudin, Ramon Navaratnam, Simon Sipaun, Param Coomarasamy, Marina Mahathir, Raja Aziz Addruse, Tunku Abdul Aziz, Chooi Mun Sou, Ngan Ching Wen, Lee Ban Chen, Sim Kwang Yang, K. Arumugam and other Malaysians are well known for their willingness to rise above the ethnic fray in defense of the national well-being.
Can the Government act quickly and make the right decision on this or will we see it engage in further foot-dragging and business as usual – which is do nothing?
15 January 2008