Ombudsman needs provincial focal points

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BY CAROL-ANNE SULEGA

SINCE the Office of the Ombudsman experiences and receives an average of 300 complaints a year, the Bills and Legislation Committee (BLC) suggests that the Ombudsman has at least one of his own officers in each of the country’s nine provinces.

This was a recommendation by the Committee on the passed legislation, the Ombudsman Bill (Act).

In evidence, the Committee was informed that the Office receives an increasing demand for its services and has reported an accumulated backlog.

The BLC noted that this is an overwhelming number of complaints which is managed by a very lean staff.

The Committee noted that the legislation will enable the Office to address capacity issues by expanding its current staff establishment and to recruit accordingly.

This would also take into account the recruitment of qualified personnel suited for various technical and specific tasks.

The Office anticipates these increased to be introduced this year according to the report.

The BLC was informed that previously, the Office engaged public servants who are posted in the provincial headquarters to perform investigations in the provinces on behalf of the Ombudsman.

These officers are referred to as the ‘Focal Point Personnel’ who provide assistance on an ad hoc and voluntary basis.

The report states that the Committee is concerned that in a situation where there is conflict of interest, proper investigation of complaints may be compromised under such arrangements.

The BLC then added that it supports the need for the Ombudsman to have strong presence and reach in all provinces.

“However, the Committee is of the view that the time has come for the Ombudsman to have its own staff in the provinces.

“Where focal point personnel are used, these should be remunerated for their work and clear guidelines are set to avoid conflict of interest situations,” the report states.

The BLC also recommends that the Ministry of Public Service and the Ministry of Finance and Treasury work collaboratively with the Office of the Ombudsman t0o urgently pursue recruitment within the next 12 months.

This was stated last year, therefore work on this is expected this year.

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