Govt mulling law to devolve federal ombudsman




With an objective to improve services delivery at grassroots level, the federal government has prepared a piece of legislation to devolve the federal ombudsman to divisional and district level to ensure proper monitoring of services at the doorsteps of the citizens, Pakistan Today has learnt.

A well placed source in the federal government informed Pakistan Today that the decision to devolve the federal ombudsman had been taken and Ministry of Law and Justice had already prepared a bill to devolve the federal ombudsman. “An important meeting is being held today to discuss the proposal and after discussing the idea from stakeholders, the bill would be moved for being laid in the National Assembly for legislation,” the source added.

The source said that the idea behind devolution of the federal ombudsman was to take the monitoring system to the district level as the local governments were already functional where the ombudsman would not only monitor the services but it would also provide a check on the local governments.

“The provincial ombudsman offices have already established their offices at the divisional and district levels. The devolution of federal ombudsman would add to the monitoring system,” the source added.

It is pertinent to mention here that the federal ombudsman receives funds from international and local organisations and its devolution was a part of the Millennium Development Goals.

The official said there was an overlap between the federal ombudsman and certain regulatory bodies and judging by the number of complaints, there was some overlap between the ombudsman and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), and much more with the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (NEPRA), and the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA). The regulatory bodies are not as well equipped as the ombudsman to investigate and redress complaints.

In addition, the official said, nobody has the authority to resolve conflicts between the decisions of the ombudsman and a regulatory body, and citizens could be left in limbo while a disagreement persists. Moreover, the official asserted, regulatory bodies, in general, are not supposed to redress individual grievances.

“The federal ombudsman has already been directed by the federal government not to take up complaints against ministry of Water and Power as well as the Sui Southern Gas Company. Hence, its job is already been limited,” the source added.

Asked why the federal government had restricted the federal ombudsman from taking up complaints of the two departments against whom a bulk of complaints were being filed, the source said that both the departments were directed to install their own tribunals who would hear complaints against both the departments.

The Supreme Court, the Supreme Judicial Council, the Federal Shariat Court and the High Courts are excluded from the jurisdiction of ombudsmen. Other than this, there are no apparent gaps in the ombudsman’s cover age at the provincial level.

“There is only one notable omission at the Federal level, and that concerns the telephone operator Pakistan Telecommunications Ltd (PTCL), which is 74pc owned by the federal government and 26pc by a strategic investor. The president of Pakistan has decided that it should not be treated as a government corporation; thus, the federal ombudsman no longer has jurisdiction over PTCL. This runs counter to the worldwide practice of bringing public services within the purview of the ombudsman,” the official added.