Two years on, federal ombudsman still not there


Two years on, the Pakistan People’s Party-led coalition government has miserably failed in naming a new federal ombudsman, depriving over 46,000 applicants of justice and showcasing its commitment towards accountability of the political and bureaucratic elites.
A well-placed source told Pakistan Today that the federal ombudsman, the accountability forum receiving direct complaints from the public at large against malpractices of government officials, received 72,605 complaints to date of which the department had investigated 46,746.
The official said after completing the investigation process, the finished enquiries had been forwarded to the office of federal ombudsman for approval, but since no one had been handed down powers, the good work done by the department was unfinished. The source added that the poor complainants, mostly from far-flung areas, visited the federal ombudsman’s office time and again, but to no avail.
“We just need a formal approval by the ombudsman but since the post is lying vacant since October 26, 2010, no development has taken place and no relief to complainants has been provided.” Under the law, the federal ombudsman enjoys maximum powers under a presidential order governing the office, and its powers cannot be delegated to its subordinates. However, the president can delegate his powers to anyone to make the office functional. But to date, no such step has been taken.
The Ombudsman’s Secretariat is the only institution in the country which provides free justice to the people. While the rich hire top lawyers against hefty payments to get justice, the poor and middle classes seek ombudsman’s help for which they only have to send their applications through simple letters. The significant accountability slot is lying vacant following the completion of tenure of the last federal ombudsman, Javed Sadiq Malik, who retired on October 27, 2010.
The post cannot be kept vacant for an indefinite period due to its public importance and also due to the pressure by donor agencies for installing an effective accountability system in the country. The appointment of ombudsman is an obligation of the president under Article 7 of the 1983 Order.
The absence of ombudsman has resulted into piling up of thousands of files at the ombudsman office.
“To add fuel to fire, the president has yet not delegated powers of the ombudsman to anyone; hence, depriving thousands of justice. Over 40 percent cases have even become time-barred as the timelines have either lapsed or the matter has been disposed of but no justice has been given,” an official told Pakistan Today, seeking anonymity. The source added that some applicants had complained against refusal by officials of colleges or universities but since the date of admissions had lapsed, even signature by ombudsman could not provide them justice. “Same is the case with others who have now crossed the bridge after being denied justice due to long delays,” the official added. In the absence of the federal ombudsman, who performs as a principal accounting officer besides performing all statutory functions, including administrative and financial sanctions, particularly with reference to release of funds, incurring of expenditures, re-appropriation of funds and grant of salaries to contractual employees, the Federal Ombudsman Secretariat has come to a complete standstill. Accountability is one of the major compulsory components of any democracy and its presence is especially required to promote and protect societies of third world countries like Pakistan.
The Federal Ombudsman Secretariat had initiated a number of capacity-building projects and institutional streamlining efforts with various donors’ assistance that have come to a complete standstill, with the donors, including the Asian Development Bank (ADB), UNICEF and UNDP, having withdrawn their assistance in
several cases.
In the contemporary world, the office of the ombudsman has been closely associated with democracy, governance and public administration. It is an inexpensive, expeditious and easy mechanism to redress the grievances of the common man against the unbridled bureaucracy and technocracy in any country.
Interestingly to date, no social worker, lawyer or politician has approached court of law against non-appointment of the federal ombudsman although the opposition parties did approach apex court for petty political issues.