Saturday, August 29, 2009

Why no Office of the Ombudsman

Kaieteur News Editorial, Saturday 29 August 2009 - "Why no Office of the Ombudsman" -

The Office of the Ombudsman has not been filled for years. This is one of the constitutional offices in the country and it is often held by a retired judge or someone of equal qualification.
The job of the Ombudsman is to adjudicate in cases that are brought by members of the public against Government officials suspected of wrongdoing. He is independent of any obstruction and his ruling is equal to that of a court. There could be legal challenges to these rulings, often to the court.
Eusi Kwayana is one of the people in not so recent memory —nearly 40 years ago—who went before the Ombudsman against two Government Ministers in the wake of complaints that they were involved in wrongdoing. The two were then Works Minister Hamilton Green and the then Housing Minister, the late David Singh.
The complaints against both men were that they were using their offices to procure material owned by the government for their personal gain. Hamilton Green was accused of using metal sheets on his home at D’Urban Backlands having allegedly procured these unfairly and in a manner not befitting a leader of the people. A similar accusation was leveled against David Singh.
In those days independence meant just that. There was no intervention by any leader. The then Prime Minister, Forbes Burnham, was the head of the country and although much has been said about his dictatorial ways, there is no one who could say that he meddled with things legal. He never intervened in the legal process, and in his book, it was let the chips fall where they may.
The Ombudsman found David Singh guilty and this Minister was forced to resign. He died soon after.
Hamilton Green was cleared but the Ombudsman noted that there might have been some aberrations.
In the face of the current allegations that contracts are padded and that there are constant irregularities, one of which, as one columnist noted, involved the signing of a number of remigrant declarations, all of which were fraudulently obtained, the public has no recourse to the Office of the Ombudsman.
President Bharrat Jagdeo has been asked repeatedly about appointing an Ombudsman but he has failed to do so for reasons best known to himself. And it cannot be that there is a shortage of candidates. Guyana has many retired judges who had performed with distinction and whose mental acuity is still there.
Some retired recently while others might have been off the bench for a relatively long time, but these people are available to the state.
Every society needs checks and balances; every society needs a forum to which people could channel their complaints because far too often when they go to the political directorate with complaints against officials their complaints are either ignored or are shelved to a date that never seems to approach.
Today, in the wake of revelations about a pump station at Stanleytown, West Bank Demerara; bridges at various locations in the country; river defence structures and certain road constructions, there seems to be no forum to which people could turn for explanations and if necessary, corrective action.
This is not to say that the Head of State is not keen to have an Ombudsman appointed, but he must be made to explain his reason for this obvious flaw in national life. He must be made to realize that there must be systems to ensure the smooth running of the country.
Guyana is not a playground for the rich and famous, nor is it the milch cow for people in Government office. People elected to high office must be accountable, and in cases where there is no public forum to guarantee accountability, people with complaints are often frustrated.
The response by the Finance Minister to complaints about the contracts was an insult to the intelligence of the people of Guyana and something that clearly supported what some feel was legalised dishonesty.
There was the story of the lowly clerk who bought a house for $60 million. The Commissioner of the Guyana Revenue Authority has promised an investigation, but he has no compunction to either conduct such an investigation or to report the findings to the nation.
The Ombudsman would have held public hearings and the various answers to the queries would have been in the public domain.
The Head of State is immune from investigation by the Ombudsman, but surely he would be operating in the best interest of the country if he allows his Ministers to justify their actions to the public if there is a perception of wrongdoing.

No comments: