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Ombudsman feels worthless

BABOKI KAYAWE
Makgonatsothe PIC: MORERI SEJAKGOMO
The Ombudsman wants his powers expanded to investigate issues of graft in the public service as opposed to narrowly focusing on maladministration complaints from members of the public.

Appearing before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) yesterday, Augustine Makgonatsotlhe said at the moment his office was overwhelmed by complaints from civil servants.

“Sixty-percent (60%) of complaints are from the public service, but when you look at our mandate, the provision speaks about complaints received from members of the public,” he said of their narrow focus on maladministration complaints from public members, as experienced in government ministries, departments and parastatals. Furthermore, most of the cases brought forth by government employees border on issues of corruption as well as injustice and unfairness in promotions and progression in the work place, he explained to PAC. Therefore, he appealed that the mandate of the Ombudsman be extended to all members of the public including public employees, as that is the essence of public protectors in other jurisdictions; to guard against maladministration across the public sphere, especially public authorities. 

During the 2015-2016 period, the Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security had the highest number of complaints at 279 cases - constituting 30% of complaints, followed by Local Government at 201, the then Ministry of Education and Skills Development at 115, then Ministry of Health at 63, Transport and Communications with 52 and parastatals make up 41.  

Another eyesore is lack of responsiveness of government ministries and departments, which Makgonatsotlhe said has adversely affected their mandate.  This problem, he said, has also been experienced by MPs, media practitioners and

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researchers. 

“It is important that the discretionary power of the Ombudsman be highlighted because we have always decried the non-responsiveness of government ministries and departments, which often leads to the Ombudsman making adverse determinations against them without their full participation,” Makganatsotlhe said.

He has observed the emergence of a new trend where such ministries and departments, having failed to cooperate with the Ombudsman through the investigation process, deny themselves the opportunity to challenge any allegations made against them, as well as seek to challenge the correctness of the findings.

“While this generally smacks of contempt and disdain for the Ombudsman, it also demonstrates our public sector’s disregard for their duty to account to members of the public, or to be held responsible for their actions,” Makgonatsotlhe added.

The Ombudsman also implored government to grant the office autonomy through entrenching it (the office) in the constitution against its existence now as  “a mere Act of Parliament”, which could be scrapped at any time, adding that this would ensure financial, operational and legal independence ultimately.

“The office of the Ombudsman should be getting resources directly from Parliament and be accountable to it as well,” he said.

Given that the Ombudsman often gets cases of corruption though not mandated and resourced to handle such, Makgonatsotlhe said government must consider amalgamating his office with the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime in order to do away with the duplication.



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