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How government spits at people’s office

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Peter Dimba

Call it arrogance on the part of the government and its ministries! And danger to Malawi’s democracy even.

If there is one governance institution that is active in handling issues of people’s concerns, it is the Office of the Ombudsman.

But, because of the way it was established, it does not have the mandate to enforce its own determinations.

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Our democracy set it up in state structure so that it acts as police man, sort of, to the government, picking out issues, as brought to it by the people or on its own initiative, and laying them down before government and its agencies t for it to act.

Over the years, the Ombudsman has made defining determinations – all with the intention to put Malawi’s democracy where it should be – a service to the people.

But government and its departments are treating the Ombudsman as an also-run in the democratic space of the country, spiting in its face by not complying with its determinations.

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Now those determinations not complied with stand at 214, some of them dating as far back as 22 years ago.

And the Ombudsman is disappointed, describing government’s non-compliance with its determinations as one of the setbacks it continues to face in its quest of correcting maladministration in the country’s public sector.

Ombudsman Grace Malera told The Sunday Times Saturday the non-compliance of government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) with its determinations is in the long run denying justice to the hundreds of aggrieved parties that suffered injustice at the hands of public offices and officers.

“Currently, about 241 determinations are not complied with as of December 2021, and some of these date to as far back as the year 2000.

“This is due to lack of cooperation by the MDAs and disregard of the applicable laws,” Malera said.

Apart from limited understanding of the mandate of the Office of the Ombudsman on the part of some public officers, Malera also complained of weak legislation which does not give her office enforcement powers over its directives.

“This has led to delays and backlog of unresolved complaints thereby denying access to justice by aggrieved parties.

“Another critical challenge is administrative inefficiencies in the public service when it comes to records keeping and management,” she said.

Malera said during investigations they usually face lack of supporting documents to process remedial measures for concerned complainants.

She however said through the Public Sector Reforms her office has commenced processes for the amendment of the Ombudsman Act, in order to strengthen their mandate and operations.

Commenting on the matter, governance analyst Ernest Thindwa corroborated Malera on the lack of enforcement mechanisms for the office of the Ombudsman, further accusing Parliament of failure to act on non-complying institutions.

“Public institutions are relaxing simply because Parliament has not exercised its authority in terms of ensuring that the office of the Ombudsman’s determinations are enforced.

“Let Parliament play its role of ensuring that such authorities are brought to book,” Thindwa said.

But Chairperson of the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament Peter Dimba said yesterday that his committee is aware of the problem and that they will soon be summoning concerned controlling officers.

“When we meet as a Committee we will subpoena those controlling officers who have high rates of non-compliance so that they explain to the Committee why they have no regard to the determinations of the Ombudsman and undermine the Constitution which established the office of the Ombudsman and its mandate,” he said.

Section 127 of the Malawi Constitution states that at the elapse of 90 days after a determination is given by the Ombudsman, a non-complying institution should be reported to Parliament through the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament.

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