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Role of the Ombudsman
If you believe that any government department or authority has unfairly treated you, you can take your complaint to the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman is a non-political, independent office created under the Constitution. The main function of the Ombudsman is to investigate cases of injustice arising out of “maladministration”’ by government departments or related bodies. Using the Ombudsman is a way of trying to solve a complaint without going to court.
“Maladministration” or “faults in administration” refers broadly to the way in which a government department or authority has dealt with a situation or reached a decision in the exercise of its functions. This includes mistakes, delays, rigidity and carelessness in government procedure, or even the failure to make a decision on an administrative matter.
To investigate a matter one of the following must take place:
• a person who feels an injustice from a fault in administration has been done makes a complaint
• where a member of the House of Representative refers a matter
• where the Ombudsman considers an injustice has occurred
A complaint may be made in writing or online through the official Web site of the Ombudsman. It is free of charge. The Ombudsman does not have to investigate a matter:
• which the person complaining has known about for more than a year
• if the complaint is trivial; or
• if the person complaining does not have enough of a connection with the matter
Where the Ombudsman decides not to investigate or stops investigating a complaint, he or she must inform the person who made the complaint.
Powers and restrictions
In investigating a complaint the Ombudsman has extensive powers. These include the power to call witnesses to give evidence, or to go into premises to call for and inspect documents during the investigation. However, the powers do not include the power to question government policy, but rather administrative issues that arise from it. Also, the Ombudsman is restricted by law from investigating certain matters, including:
• a case which is about to go to court or if court action has been started
• matters concerning dealings with foreign governments and international organisations
• matters relating to the armed forces and fugitive offenders
• actions taken in matters concerning contractual and commercial transactions involving a government department or authority
• matters of appointments, removals, pay, discipline, pension and other personnel matters in the Public Service
Where an injustice has been found the Ombudsman must inform the government department or body concerned of the results of the investigation and the reasons for any findings. The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to correct the injustice and also to set a time limit to correct it.
The Ombudsman cannot force a government body to comply with the Ombudsman’s recommendations. However, if the matter is not corrected, and is of sufficient public importance, the Ombudsman must send a special report to Parliament on the case. Additionally, the Ombudsman must make annual reports on the performance of their functions, including statistics of complaints received and the results of investigations.
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