Law Society calls for creation of public ombudsman post

|     Hakim Hayat     |

THE Law Society of Brunei Darussalam is looking forward to the just and quick resolution of issues arising from the alleged embezzlement of funds from the Official Receiver’s accounts at the Bankruptcy Office, its President On Hung Zheng said yesterday.

Speaking at the opening of the Legal Year 2019 at the Supreme Court Building yesterday, On, who leads the representative body for lawyers in Brunei Darussalam, was referring to the ongoing case of two disgraced judicial officers who were charged in the courts last year on multiple counts of money laundering, corruption and criminal breach of trust.

In what was one of the largest corruption scandals the country has ever seen, funds collected from hundreds of judgment debtors by the Official Receiver’s Office on behalf of creditors were discovered missing.

“Various stakeholders have been affected by the missing funds. Debtors who have fully paid their debts should be discharged from bankruptcy and creditors should be entitled to receive all of the payment due on these outstanding debts,” On said.

In his address, On also called for the authorities to consider the establishment of an ombudsman or public advocate office, whose role will be to investigate and address complaints of maladministration in the public sector. He said this will ensure the observance of the law among officials who serve public bodies, which will help the country in its efforts to strengthen its economy and promote the rule of law.

President of the Law Society of Brunei Darussalam On Hung Zheng. – RAHWANI ZAHARI

“The ombudsman may report his or her findings and make recommendations to the organisation as to how the complaint may be redressed. The aim is to resolve complaints through recommendations or mediation which may help identify issues such as poor service or failure to comply with the relevant laws and regulations,” he said, adding that the ombudsman will work for the benefit of the country by increasing effectiveness, transparency and efficiency of public administration, boosting local and foreign confidence in making long-term investments in Brunei.

On also highlighted the issue of uncertainty with the Land Code amendments.

He said the continued opaqueness surrounding the fundamental right to buy, sell and own property for almost seven years is having adverse effects, not only on the legal profession, but also on the economy as a whole.

“Public confidence in our legal system is driven by clarity and certainty in the application of our laws,” he said.

“This undeniably includes the certainty of protections to individual property rights. The stability offered by those protections would incentivise local and foreign investment as well as create a favourable environment to generate economic growth.”

On pointed out that the Law Society has relayed its views on the uncertainties with the Land Code amendments to the Ministry of Development, adding that he hopes these issues can be resolved as soon as possible.

The Law Society President additionally highlighted the introduction of a pilot scheme to provide funding to the Legal Aid Clinic – a legal advice service the society has been offering pro bono to qualified members of the public – so that their volunteer legal professionals may offer not just advice but also representation to individuals who are unable to afford own counsels.