The Ombudsman represents a government body which is independent from the judiciary and the executive and addresses citizens’ complaints. Having special powers to protect citizens’ human rights, ombudsman offices are considered as places of solace and asylum for neglected sections of society.
Depending upon the powers an ombudsman is entrusted with, its role varies from society to society. In some societies, an ombudsman is empowered enough to receive complaints, launch investigations into them and impose its verdict upon respective parties.
While in other societies, their role is confined to mediatory bodies which just recommend solutions with no powers to take practical steps to serve justice to the affectees.
In Pakistan, the ombudsman’s office emulates the former situation. It is empowered enough to take up complaints against all federal and provincial government offices, to launch investigations and to impose its verdicts. Not only that, the ombudsman in Pakistan also enjoys a good reputation and credibility among the masses. The Federal Ombudsman enjoys the status of a judge of Supreme Court and thus its decision cannot be challenged.
However, despite having such a competent body readily available to take up people’s grievances, and despite being exploited by government service providers on a daily basis, only a negligible fraction of the society invokes the ombudsman office’s help. Many prefer to use their contacts or use corrupt means to get their way.
A major reason behind the phenomenon is not the fact that people are inclined towards illegal ways of getting things done, but their ignorance about the prevalence of any such body in the country. At a time when corruption, nepotism and mal-governments have become the hallmark of our nation, having a credible body to help people out is not something people are accustomed to.
But the fact of the matter is that the nation benefits by having such a competent body which is committed to eradicating corruption and bad governance. Unfortunately many people are not aware of its existence. Recently, in a seminar, while giving his presentation
to the media and representatives of non government and development organizations, Mr. A.R Abid, Additional Secretary at Wafaqi Mohtasib’s Secretariat, Islamabad said that despite the fact that Mohtasib’s (ombudsman) office was in place since 1983, it had not yet been able to play its role fully.
He lamented the fact that the body did not have a resource base which could be utilized for running an awareness campaign, and thus, they were out to seek help from the media, NGOs, civil society organizations, and students to make their voices and their message reach at all corners of the country.He suggested that instead of taking the complaints as routine complaints from the masses, government officials should take them as part of the process which will lead to improvements.
It was encouraging to know that the Ombudsman office in Pakistan defines good governance in the context of three basic principles – accountability, transparency and integrity. It has a quick system of registering and acknowledging complaints against federal and provincial agencies and ensures redressal of grievances within no later than three months. Besides the provincial ombudsman offices which have their presence in all major districts of the country, the Federal Ombudsman also has a nationwide presence through its offices in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Baluchistan and AJK.
Having said this, a crucial factor for ombudsman’s proper functioning is its prerequisite to have an honest leadership. Perhaps that is the reason that the seat of the federal ombudsman is lying vacant for many months and there seems to be no one taking that seat in the near future. Nevertheless, since the office is running its routine matters quite efficiently, civil society, non government organizations and the media must play its role in highlighting the body’s efficacy and effectiveness in promoting a culture of accountability and good governance in the country.
This article was originally published at: News Pakistan
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.