Following is the speech by the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mr Donald Tsang, in moving the second reading of the Ombudsman (Amendment) Bill 2001 in the Legislative Council today (May 30):
I move that The Ombudsman (Amendment) Bill 2001 be read the second time.
The Ombudsman (Amendment) Bill 2001 aims to formalize the separation of the Office of The Ombudsman ("the Office") from the Government. It provides the Office with the powers and flexibility to manage its resources effectively and to meet public demand for its services.
To strengthen the independence of the Office, we have proposed in the Bill to establish The Ombudsman as a separate corporate entity, capable of taking and defending civil actions. The Bill clarifies that The Ombudsman is not a servant or agent of the Government. It empowers The Ombudsman to acquire and hold property, and enter into contracts; to impose on The Ombudsman accounting, audit and reporting requirements; and to protect The Ombudsman and staff from personal civil liability.
We have reviewed the operation of The Ombudsman Ordinance and have put forward a number of minor improvements. For example, we propose to empower The Ombudsman to use a variety of means to improve its services to the public, including conducting preliminary inquiry and mediation. The Bill also proposes to empower The Ombudsman to appoint advisers, and to remove the constraint on the publication of investigation report so long as the identities of the relevant parties are not disclosed.
While steps are being taken to provide greater flexibility to The Ombudsman over staffing and financial management arrangements, we should, in preserving public interest, also ensure that The Ombudsman and staff will act with propriety and continue to be accountable to the public over resource management. We have therefore proposed that the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance should apply to The Ombudsman as it does to other major statutory bodies. It will continue to be subject to examination by the Director of Audit as well. Needless to say, The Ombudsman will continue to account for the utilization of resources before the Legislative Council in the capacity of a Controlling Officer under the Public Finance Ordinance.
Finally, with the agreement of the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Privacy Commissioner's Office, we have proposed to expand the ambit of The Ombudsman Ordinance to cover these two statutory bodies. Hence, complaints against these two bodies on the ground of maladministration will in future be handled by The Ombudsman.
End/Wednesday, May 30, 2001