Ombudsman after 2 years, but not a regular one


After two long years, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on Saturday assigned additional responsibilities of federal ombudsman to Salman Farooqui, secretary general to the president, on “temporary basis” to clear the backlog of 75,000 complaints filed by aggrieved people against the malpractices and irregularities committed by federal institutions.
The appointment of a federal ombudsman is compulsory for the president under Article 7 of the 1983 Order; however, the Ombudsman Secretariat witnessed a huge backlog of complaints piling up over the past two years because of the president’s reluctance to appoint a federal ombudsman – the only organ of the state which provides cost-free and immediate relief to the common people.
The Federal Ombudsman Secretariat had initiated a number of capacity-building projects and institutional streamlining efforts with assistance from international donors. However the initiatives were abandoned and the donors, including the Asian Development Bank (ADB), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), withdrew their assistance in some cases due to absence of an ombudsman.
While the rich can hire expensive lawyers to get justice, people from lower and middle classes seek the ombudsman to have their complaints redressed. The key slot has been lying vacant since the last federal ombudsman, Javed Sadiq Malik, completed his four-year tenure on October 27, 2010. Since then, no ombudsman has been appointed. Under the law, the post of federal ombudsman cannot be kept vacant for an indefinite period because of its importance. Donor agencies also demand an ombudsman to ensure an effective accountability system in the country.
Under the law, the president appoints the federal ombudsman; however, in his absence, the prime minister took the decision to assign additional responsibilities to Farooqui with the president’s approval.
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 those powers to anyone to make the office functional.
“The temporary assignment will last till the appointment of Ombudsman on regular basis which is expected soon. A large number of complaints have piled up in the office of Mohtasib which could not be disposed for want of appointment of Ombudsman,” said an official statement issued by the PM’s House.
According to the statement, Farooqui called on the prime minister and thanked him for reposing trust in him. Ashraf hoped that Farooqui’s extensive service with the government would enable him to clear the backlog pending before the Wafaqi Mohtasib while the government finalises the federal ombudsman on a regular basis. Farooqui made it clear that he would work in honorary capacity, the statement said.
“Out of the 75,000 complaints, over 46,000 have been looked into and recommendations have been made for appropriate action in this regard. However, due to the absence of a federal ombudsman, these were pending for approval as under the law only ombudsman could sign the finished enquiries and decisions after investigation by the his secretariat,” a source in the Federal Ombudsman’s Secretariat told Pakistan Today.
The official said that after completing the investigation process, the finished enquiries had been put at the table of the federal ombudsman for approval. The source added that the poor complainants, mostly from far-flung areas, had visited the federal ombudsman’s office time and again but to no avail. “The absence of ombudsman has also been disturbing the employees of his office, as the federal ombudsman acts as a principal accounting officer besides performing all statutory functions, including administrative and financial sanctions particularly with reference to the release of funds, incurring of expenditures, re-appropriation of funds and grant of salaries to contractual employees etc,” the official added.
Interestingly, no social worker, lawyer or politician from the opposition parties has approached any court of law against the vacant status of the federal ombudsman’s office to date. Opposition parties have been approaching the apex court for petty political issues for their own cause, but no one has so far bothered to challenge the vacant status of the ombudsman’s office, the only place to redress the complaints of the poor.