Ombudsman – Study Material
An ombudsman, or public advocate is an official who is charged with representing the interests of the public by investigating and addressing complaints of maladministration or a violation of rights. The ombudsman is usually appointed by the government or by parliament, but with a significant degree of independence. In some countries an inspector general, citizen advocate or other official may have duties similar to those of a national ombudsman, and may also be appointed by a legislature. Below the national level an ombudsman may be appointed by a state, local or municipal government. Unofficial ombudsmen may be appointed by, or even work for, a corporation such as a utility supplier, newspaper, NGO, or professional regulatory body.
The typical duties of an ombudsman are to investigate complaints and attempt to resolve them, usually through recommendations (binding or not) or mediation. Ombudsmen sometimes also aim to identify systematic issues leading to poor service or breaches of people’s rights. At the national level, most ombudsmen have a wide mandate to deal with the entire public sector, and sometimes also elements of the private sector (for example, contracted service providers). In some cases, there is a more restricted mandate, for example with particular sectors of society. More recent developments have included the creation of specialized Children’s Ombudsman and Information Commissioner agencies.
Origins and Etymology :
- A prototype of an ombudsman may have flourished in China during the Qin Dynasty (221 BC), and in Korea during the Joseon Dynasty. The position of secret royal inspector, or Amhaeng-eosa was unique to the Joseon Dynasty, where an undercover official directly appointed by the king was sent to local provinces to monitor government officials and look after the populace while travelling incognito. The Roman Tribune had some similar roles, with power to veto acts that infringed upon the Plebeians. Another precursor to the ombudsman was the Turkish Diwan-al-Mazalim which appears to go back to the second caliph, Umar (634–644) and the concept of Qadi al-Qudat. They were also attested in Siam, India, the Liao dynasty (Khitan Empire), Japan, and China.
- An indigenous Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish term, ombudsmanis etymologically rooted in the Old Norse word umboðsmaðr, essentially meaning “representative” (with the word umbud/ombud meaning proxy, attorney, that is someone who is authorized to act for someone else, a meaning it still has in the Scandinavian languages). In the Danish Law of Jutland from 1241, the term is umbozman and means a royal civil servant in a hundred. From 1552, it is also used in the other Scandinavian languages such as the both Icelandic and Faroese umboðsmaður, the Norwegian ombudsmann/ombodsmann and the Swedish ombudsman. The Swedish-speaking minority in Finland uses the Swedish terminology.
In Politics :
- In general, an ombudsman is a state official appointed to provide a check on government activity in the interests of the citizen, and to oversee the investigation of complaints of improper government activity against the citizen. If the ombudsman finds a complaint to be substantiated, the problem may get rectified, or an ombudsman report is published making recommendations for change. Further redress depends on the laws of the country concerned, but this typically involves financial compensation. Ombudsmen in most countries do not have the power to initiate legal proceedings or prosecution on the grounds of a complaint. This role is sometimes referred to as a “tribunician” role, and has been traditionally fulfilled by elected representatives – the term refers to the ancient Roman “tribunes of the plebeians” (tribuni plebis), whose role was to intercede in the political process on behalf of common citizens.
- The major advantage of an ombudsman is that he or she examines complaints from outside the offending state institution, thus avoiding the conflicts of interest inherent in self-policing. However, the ombudsman system relies heavily on the selection of an appropriate individual for the office, and on the cooperation of at least some effective official from within the apparatus of the state. The institution has also been criticized: “Ombudsmen are relics of absolutism, designed to iron out the worst excesses of administrative arbitrariness while keeping the power structures intact.
In Organizations :
- Many private companies, universities, non-profit organisations and government agencies also have an ombudsman (or an ombuds office) to serve internal employees, and managers and/or other constituencies. These ombudsman roles are structured to function independently, by reporting to the CEO or board of directors, and according to International Ombudsman Association (IOA) Standards of Practice they do not have any other role in the organisation. Organisational ombudsmen often receive more complaints than alternative procedures such as anonymous hot-lines.
- Since the 1960s, the profession has grown in the United States, and Canada, particularly in corporations, universities and government agencies. The organizational ombudsmanworks as a designated neutral party, one who is high-ranking in an organization, but who is not part of executive management. Using an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) or appropriate dispute resolution approach, an organisational ombudsman can provide options to whistleblowers or employees and managers with ethical concerns; provide coaching, shuttle diplomacy, generic solutions (meaning a solution which protects the identity of one individual by applying to a class of people, rather than just for the one individual) and mediation for conflicts; track problem areas; and make recommendations for changes to policies or procedures in support of orderly systems change.
Ombudsman Services by Country :
- The People’s Advocate(Ombudsman) of the Republic of Albania (Albanian: Avokati i Popullit) was envisaged in Chapter VI of the Albanian Constitution approved in November 1998 (articles 60–63 and 134). Article 60 states that “The People’s Advocate defends the rights, freedoms and lawful interests of individuals from unlawful or improper actions or failures to act of the organs of public administration.” The Parliament passed the Law on the People’s Advocate, Law No. 8454, in February 1999. The People’s Advocate is elected by three-fifths of all members of the Assembly for a five-year period, with the right of re-election. The Law has since been amended by Law No. 8600, of 10 April 2000, and Law No. 9398, of 12 May 2005.
- The current Ombudsman is Erinda Ballanca, elected on 22 May 2017, succeeding Igli Totozani, elected on 23 December 2011, and Dr Emir Dobjani who had served since February 2000.
In the Principality of Andorra, the ombudsman is called Raonador del Ciutadà.
- The Defensor del Pueblo de la Nación Argentina (The People’s Defender of The Nation of Argentina), established in Article 86 of the Constitution, is an independent body related to the Argentine National Congress with functional autonomy, as it does not receive instructions from any authority and enjoys same immunities and privileges as a legislator.
- The principal functions are, first, the defense of human rights and other rights, guarantees and interests protected by the Constitution, to acts or omissions of public administration, and secondly, the control of public administrative functions. The Defender is elected by the vote of 2/3 of the members present in each branch of Congress for a period of five years and may be reappointed.
The office of Human Rights Defender, or Ombudsman, of the Republic of Armenia was created by law in October 2003. The official website describes the goal of the office as the protection and restoration of human rights and fundamental freedoms. It receives complaints against state and local officials. In February 2004 Larisa Alaverdyan was appointed to the office by presidential decree. The second ombudsman was Armen Harutyunyan, who was elected by the National Assembly under article 83.1 of the Constitution on 17 February 2006, obtaining more than 3/5 votes of deputies, for what was intended to be a six-year term commencing on 20 February. The 2003 law governing the office was amended later in 2006, 2008 and 2010. Karen Andreasyan was the third human rights defender in Armenia. On 2 March 2011, the National Assembly of Armenia elected the new Armenian Ombudsman, with 83 parliamentarians voting for and 13 against. Karen Andreasyan assumed his responsibilities as Human Rights Defender of the Republic of Armenia as of 3 March 2011.
The Government of India has designated several ombudsmen (sometimes called Chief Vigilance Officer (CVO)) for the redress of grievances and complaints from individuals in the banking, insurance and other sectors being serviced by both private and public bodies and corporations. The CVC (Central Vigilance Commission) was set up on the recommendation of the Santhanam Committee (1962–64).
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