Within the Government's own terms of reference, the office of Ombudsman is defined as 'an independent authority which provides a channel for investigation of public complaints against administrative actions'. The Ombudsman is there, in crude terms, to be a thorn in the Government's flesh. The decision not to renew the contract of Andrew So Kwok-wing could, indeed, be a sign that he fulfilled the duties of office too diligently for comfort. This makes it particularly unfortunate that Alice Tai Yuen-ying, the new appointee, is already beset by controversy. No matter how much Ms Tai protests that her civil service background will not impinge on her impartiality, such a question should never have arisen. Had the Government conformed to its own guidelines, it would have appointed someone with no connections to any administrative office. This is not a matter of Ms Tai's professional even-handedness. As a solicitor, she has the legal background which is a useful qualification. No doubt she will act without bias in all her work. The difficulty is that her decisions may not always be perceived that way. The fact that her husband is Transport Commissioner would almost certainly be a cause for comment if a case arose involving the Transport Department, no matter how scrupulously she distanced herself from the inquiry, or how fair and transparent the ruling of her staff. In an executive-led administration, the Ombudsman's post fills a gap that exists in the absence of a fully democratic system. It provides an essential outlet for the public to have grievances set to rights. It is an important curb on the powers of bureaucracy, but can only be effective if the office is seen as separate from official channels. In saying that she is the wrong person for the job, no criticism is implied of Ms Tai, who proved an adept senior administrative officer during her civil service career, and a highly efficient administrator of the judiciary since 1994. It is the Government which made an error of judgment by this appointment, creating a small dent in public confidence in the process.