Introduction: In the modern state, individual life is affected by multifarious state activities. Today, the state agencies are to exercise huge administrative power in discharging their responsibilities. The idea of the Ombudsman, therefore, evolved in response to the growing concern for the protection of individuals against the ever-expanding state horizon. While the court system resolves conflicts between individuals, the institution of the Ombudsman emerged as a mechanism to deal with administrative corruption and mal-administration. Now the institution of Ombudsman has been adopted in many parts of the world irrespective of social, economic, legal, political, and demographic diversities among these countries.
Concept of Ombudsman:
The word ‘Ombudsman’ has been derived from the Swedish word ‘Ombud’ which in the Swedish language commonly denotes ‘a person who acts as a spokesman or representative of another person or persons. A universal definition of Ombudsman is yet to be evolved. However, the Ombudsman Committee of the International Bar Association has suggested the following definition:
‘An Ombudsman is an office provided by the constitution or by the action of the legislature or parliament and headed by an independent, high-level public official
– who is responsible to the legislature or parliament,
– who receives complaints from an aggrieved person against governmental agencies, officials, and employees or
– who acts on his own motion and
– who has the power to investigate, recommend corrective action, and issue reports.
According to Prof. S.K. Agarwal, the term ‘Ombudsman’ refers only to institutions that have three basic and unique characteristics:
1. the Ombudsman is an independent and non-partisan office of the legislature who supervises the administration;
2. he deals with specific complaints concerning mal-administration or many proceed on his own information; and
3. he has the power to investigate, criticize and report back to the legislature but not to refer for administrative action.
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Development of the institution of Ombudsman: Sweden is the first country to establish the office of the Ombudsman. The office of the Ombudsman was created by the constitution of 1809 itself. It remained a unique Swedish phenomenon until Finland adopted it in 1919 by a Constitutional Act. Subsequently, other Scandinavian countries, e.g. Denmark and Norway established it in 1954 and 1960 respectively.
Salient features of the office of Ombudsman: The review of the office of Ombudsman in most of the countries in which it operates successfully reveals that it has, in general, the following features:
1. Independence: Independence is of fundamental importance to the impartial functioning of the Ombudsman. Therefore, independence from executive intervention has been identified as the most important criterion of the Ombudsman system.
2. Power of investigation: Ombudsman should be given access to the required information, evidence, and documents to reach a decision. The office can call for information and documents from anyone including ministers and officials. It should be given the power to examine both the official bills and documents for investigation. In this regard, it should enjoy immunity from persecution for its actions and opinion during the exercise of this power.
3. Annual Report: Preparing annual reports is one of the main functions of the Ombudsman. The production of meaningful annual reports is of considerable importance because these:
a. help to publish the operations of the office to policymakers, legislators, and the public;
b. clarify general expectations of the bureaucracy in its dealing with citizens;
c. are an important indicator as to the effectiveness of the office in proactive; and
d. is also a useful conduit for the communication of recommendations and improvements in the machinery of government.
4. Accessibility: Dealing with complaints and grievances from members of the public is a basic function of the Ombudsman. Therefore, it needs to be accessible to general people. The procedure to lodge a complaint with the Ombudsman office must be simple and easy. Moreover, the complaint procedure should be less time consuming to make it a credible institution.
5. Flexibility: The office of the Ombudsman should be a flexible one to enable it to undertake multiple functions. It should enjoy the much needed administrative discretion to investigate corruption and bureaucratic irregularities.
6. Jurisdiction: A clearly defined jurisdiction of the Ombudsman is also an absolute pre-requisite so that there would be no duplication of efforts, problems of co-ordination, and confusion among the public in general.
7. Personnel: A man of integrity and outstanding merit should be appointed as an ombudsman so that he can play a vital role to conform social injustice, wide political and bureaucratic corruption, and irregularities in public sectors.
The necessity of Ombudsman
The institution of Ombudsman has achieved a widespread appeal for its intrinsic quality of making government administration responsive, adaptive, and sensitive to the needs of the people. However, the major reasons for the desirability of the office of the Ombudsman may be identified as under:
a. Protection of individuals against executive mistakes: In modern states, extensive powers and dispersions have been granted to all types of boards, agencies, and departments. The possibilities of friction between officials and the citizens have been greatly increased. In this domain, Ombudsman may play a vital role in protecting individuals against executive and administrative mistakes and abuse of power.
b. Protecting the legal status of individuals: The ombudsman plays a crucial role in protecting the legal status of individuals.
c. Acting as an impartial agent of citizens’: The Ombudsman gives the citizens an expert and impartial agent without personal cost to complain without delay, without the tension of adversary litigation.
d. Psychological value: The presence of the Ombudsman also has a psychological value. His office gives the citizens the confidence that there exists a watchdog for the people who will hold the government accountable.
e. Promoting transparency: The primary duty that Ombudsman
discharges in most countries are to fight against maladministration. The fundamental function of the institution of Ombudsman is to ensure transparency in the government.
f. Preventing corruption: In recent times, the emphasis of the Ombudsman has shifted from prevention of maladministration to prevention of corruption. Experience shows that combating corruption by mere isolated punitive actions and facile emphasis on better enforcement of rules and procedures is doomed to failure. It is now increasingly realized that corruption should be treated as a social evil and it needs to be redressed by institutional measures.
Ombudsman in Bangladesh: The Scandinavian concept of ‘Ombudsman’ has been adopted in our constitution to ensure transparency and accountability, democratic governance, rule of law and human rights. Article 77 of the constitution of Bangladesh provides that Parliament may by law establish the office of the Ombudsman. Once established, the Ombudsman shall have the power to investigate any action taken by a ministry, public Officer, or statutory public authority and such other powers and functions prescribed by the Parliament.
To fulfill the constitutional obligation, the Ombudsman Act was passed in 1980 and it empowered the government to bring it into force by Notification in the Official Gazette. Unfortunately, the government did not put the Act into effect. Successive governments followed the same posture of denial. However, recently the act has been brought out of cold storage through a gazette notification of the relevant parliamentary committee, although the actual appointment and installation of the office of the Ombudsman has to wait till necessary amendments to the law are effected in the Parliament.
The above discussion revealed that the appointment of an Ombudsman is mandatory for ensuring transparency, accountability, and efficiency in the system of governance. It is absolutely necessary for a country like ours which has already been ranked as the most corrupted in the world. Therefore, whether the office of the Ombudsman functions or disfunction depends wholly on how soon those who matter start behaving responsibly rather than continue rising to unbelievable heights of ludicrity.
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