In a letter to the South China Morning Post (SCMP) Professor Sattar Bawany, the CEO of the Disruptive Leadership Institute, wrote that the recent high-profile case wherein the conviction for theft of Indonesian domestic worker Parti Liyani had been overturned, shows a need for “an ombudsman who can conduct an impartial investigation and observe procedural fairness at all times.”
In the case, Ms Parti had been found guilty of four counts of theft last year and sentenced to 26 months in jail by District Judge Olivia Low for allegedly stealing over S$34,000 worth of goods from the Liew family, for whom she worked from 2007 to 2016. Mr Liew Mun Leong is the Chairman of the Changi Airport Group.
Ms Parti, 46, appealed against conviction. Her lawyer Anil Balchandan submitted that she had been framed by her employers in order to prevent her from filing a complaint of illegal deployment.
On September 4, High Court Judge Chan Seng Onn released a ruling that acquitted Ms Parti. Furthermore, the Judge also noted that Mr Liew Mun Leong and Mr Karl Liew, his son, had an “improper motive” in their accusations that Ms Parti had stolen from them since she had told them she would file a complaint about having to work in Mr Karl Liew’s house and office.
In his letter to SCMP, Professor Bawany pointed out the importance of trust in order to maintain social cohesion, since this “affects the government’s ability to govern and enables it to act in citizens’ best interest during times of uncertainty.”
Hence the need for an ombudsman, which is an official who is appointed to investigate individuals’ complaints against an organization, particularly a public authority.
He wrote, “It is time for Singapore to set up an Office of the Ombudsman, with an independent officer of the Parliament responsible for investigating the actions of the public authorities, including government ministries, agencies, statutory boards and town councils.”
Professor Baswany pointed out two advantages of having an ombudsman: “it could contribute to service delivery improvements and promote citizen engagement in demanding accountability.” This would strengthen public trust in the government.
Furthermore, “An ombudsman would recognise the power of the public authorities to affect people’s daily lives, the need for these agencies to be accountable for this power, and the desirability of an office that provides a timely, accessible and low-cost means for people to provide feedback and resolve disputes with these agencies,” Professor Bawany added, ending his letter to SCMP expressing the hope that “the President of Singapore would favourably consider such a proposal.”
Amid the blowback over the case, calls for accountability from the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC), the Ministry of Manpower, Judge Low and others have been sounded from the public.
On September 9, Attorney-General Lucien Wong recused himself from the review into the court case and on the following day, Mr Liew Mun Leong resigned from his position as chairman of Changi Airport Group. Mr Wong was Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s personal lawyer before his appointment as Attorney-General.
The AGC told media that Mr Wong had sat on the board of directors of CapitaLand during Mr Liew’s term as the company’s president and CEO, some years ago before his appointment as Mr Wong Attorney-General. —/TISG