December 15, 2007
One of the institutions I was really impressed by during my recent trip to Australia was the Ombudsman. Originating from Sweden, the Ombudsman is defined as follows:
An ombudsman (English plural: ombudsmans or ombudsmen) is an official, usually (but not always) appointed by the government or by parliament, who is charged with representing the interests of the public by investigating and addressing complaints reported by individual citizens.
Although appointed by the Parliament in Australia, this is kept highly independent. Jurisdictions are clear. Processes are explicit. The Ombudsman selected AND all individuals working within the office must be strictly squeaky clean in terms of both moral (private) and public character. They must actually disclose the relationships they have with anyone who might be deemed as affecting their roles as independent officer.
For example, the deputy Ombudsman told us that his wife is a senior official in the trade department so any complaints and investigations relating to that area he HAS to bypass.
Full disclosure of relationships is a good thing, but how feasible is it in a culture where close friendships at the top level are as common as daylight, and the networking that goes on between those are as dubious and shadowy as night? In Asia we cannot separate personal and working relationships, which is why food comes before business as opposed to the other way round in the West.
This inherent culture is in itself a difficulty to contend with.
Nevertheless, Indonesia has an Ombudsman and I fail to see why we cannot too. As a friend recently put it, all it really needs at the end of the day is, “accountability, accountability, accountability”. Checks and balances are tedious processes but heck, they have to be done so that systems are well in place!