THE Speaker of the Legislative Assembly yesterday maintained the need to empower the Ombudsman’s Office to take complainant’s rights to court.
Under the existing Ombudsman Principal Act, the public can lodge complaints to the Ombudsman Office on maladministration and abuse of powers. The Ombudsman Office then carries out the investigation and report their findings. However it holds no prosecution power to enforce their recommendation.
Lord Fakafanua told the Whole House Committee what’s the point of Ombudsman’s investigation and report their findings yet complainant’s cases are not heard in court.
His remarks came after the Minister of Police Hon. Mateni Tapueluelu tabled a motion to repeal the clause 18 subsection (b) of the Ombudsman Principal Act. Tapueluelu said the Ombudsman should remain with its responsibility to investigate and leave all public prosecution to the Attorney General.
The Hon. Education Minister Penisimani Fifita said the Ombudsman was made an independent body with the intention to conduct investigation and report its findings. Therefore it should maintained its independence since it cannot hold two heads an investigator and also a prosecutor. Hon. Fifita supports that prosecution power should only be carried out by the Attorney General.
Lord Fakafanua said the Ombudsman was assigned an independent body from Cabinet and Parliament so they have the power to investigate and follow up allegations against civil servants and government authorities.
He said the proposed amendment is not to remove the Attorney General’s prosecution power. Fakafanua said the Ombudsman acts as a mechanism to hold public officials to accountable and for the public to air their grievances to.
Lord Fakafanua explained that in worldwide practice Ombudsman Offices in different countries have vast approaches to enforce the recommendations relating to administrative decision.
He added countries like Spain, Uganda, Philippines, Thailand, East Timor, Ghana and Seychelles, are empowered to enforce its recommendation made from their offices.
Vava’u 15 MP, Hon. Samiu Vaipulu shared the same insight with the Speaker. He
also pointed out this power will only be used as a last resort. It can be applied when the Ministry complained about refuses or unreasonably delays to implement or recognize the recommendation made.
There will be no costs for the complainant to bear. The Speaker said this will benefit low income locals as all costs will be incurred by the Ombudsman Office.
He said in cases where government refuse to act upon the Ombudsman recommendations the Ombudsman Office can step in and take the matter to court.
In response, the Education Minister Hon. Penisimani Fifita said there are means of addressing the issue. Complainants can contact and follow up with the concerned ministry.
The Speaker thought otherwise. He is adamant to enforce and for the effectiveness of the Ombudsman’s recommendation it should hold the power to prosecute.
After much debate the Whole House Committee approved for both the Ombudsman Amendment Bills 2018 no. 11 & 12 to return for further consideration by Cabinet.