New Ombudsman’s law – civilians can report gov’t agency, ministry or department for investigation
By Mike Puia
PUBLIC can now raise complaints of maladministrative conducts by any government agency, ministry or department to the office of the Ombudsman for investigation.
As of 31st January 2018, the Ombudsman Office enforced the new Ombudsman Act 2017 which was passed in parliament on July 26, 2017. It repeals the old Ombudsman (Further Provisions) Act, Chapter 88.
Announcing the Act commencement at a press conference yesterday, the Ombudsman, Mr Fred Fakari’i said the Act requires any complaint be made in writing or verbal or from a third party. Making a verbal complaint to the Ombudsman Office for investigation is a new feature of the Act.
Fakari’i said getting written and verbal complaints is one way of encouraging those who cannot read and write to make a complaint.
Under this new Act, the Ombudsman’s Office is not responsible for investigating criminal conduct or complaints or court decisions or expert decisions and opinions.
The Act provides for a referral mechanism where the Ombudsman can formally refer complaints which are not maladministration to another authority like the police, Director of Public Prosecution or the Leadership Code Commission to handle it.
“My office can help refer anyone who has a complaint to the appropriate authority,” Fakari’i said.
He said this referral mechanism will ensure no complaint against the government can “fall through the cracks” simply because it does not involve maladministration.
The Ombudsman is empowered by this new Act to investigate complaints it receives and can also initiate investigations on its own from information received from any source including the media.
The new Act empowers the Ombudsman to request information, document or thing from any person for the purpose of his investigations or may also request a person to come forward and give information.
Fakari’i said anyone who failed to provide information or failed to attend when requested by his office will be punished. The penalties under this new Act have increased (see separate story about mal-administrative conduct and penalties). According to Fakari’i the increase of the penalties is an improvement under the new Act.
The new Act gives the Ombudsman power to obtain any evidence without a court warrant.
The Ombudsman office will conduct its investigations in confidentiality. It will prepare a report of its findings after its investigations.
If the Ombudsman office finds that the government agency, ministry or department is wrong, the Ombudsman makes recommendations to the government agency, ministry or department on how best the problem should be solved and provided recommendations for improvement.
Once a government agency, ministry or department failed to implement the Ombudsman’s recommendations, the Ombudsman can make a report for tabling in Parliament so that the government agency, ministry or department can account to Parliament.
Fakari’i said he hopes this new Act will assist his office to be effective in its “watch-dog” role.
He added he hopes the Act will become a medium for the public to channel complaints through and for the government to measure the efficiency and effectiveness of its systems to see whether there is a fair, transparent and accountable public administration that benefits the people of this country.