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N Touch
Sunday 22 April 2018
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Editorial

Ombudsman’s losing battle

INSTANCES of the misuse of administrative power have increased at an alarming rate over the years, thus violating the rights and freedoms of persons. While legal and administrative means exist to correct such misuse, persons are not always able to rely on them in terms of time and cost.”

Those are not the words of a politician. Nor are they the words of an activist or arm-chair journalist. They are the words of Lynette Stephenson SC, this country’s third Ombudsman in her final report submitted to Parliament a few weeks ago. Stephenson has served in the post for more than twelve years. This month, outgoing President Anthony Carmona named former Deputy Chief Magistrate Mark Wellington as the new Ombudsman.

While some may question the relevance of this constitutional post-holder to the lives of ordinary citizens, the record will show that the Ombudsman performs a vital function in our society. And as noted by Stephenson, that role is more important than ever. In her last report, she notes the dire need for a “more responsive and humane” public sector.

While many experience the all too common instances of maladministration that we have come to expect, not many are aware that they have at their disposal an avenue to seek redress when wronged by a public authority. It is true that the scope of complaints that can be taken up by the Ombudsmen is limited and does not include personnel matters, contractual matters, private disputes and court proceedings. However, the office has the power to deal with failure to perform statutory functions; inaccurate record-keeping; undue delay; and lapses in coverage by local health authorities. The functional arm of the Ombudsman also stretches out to prison inmates and other detainees who require the assistance. This is, therefore, a substantial list.

The most common complaints relate to: poor communication; poor service; unpredictable enforcement; faulty decision-making and unreasonable delay. Little wonder that over the past forty (40) years, the Office of the Ombudsman has received a grand total of forty-nine thousand, three hundred and forty-one (49,341) complaints.

Wellington, a former deputy chief magistrate, faces several challenges. These include: the lack of action by Parliament in dealing with both Annual Reports and Special Reports leading to the non-implementation of recommendations made by the Ombudsman; the tendency of Government units to respond in “a lackadaisical and untimely” manner; lack of financial autonomy.

The Ombudsman gives voice to the voiceless. The question is, is the State listening?

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