"I urge everyone concerned to ensure that we are partners in ensuring there is good governance because the leading role of the Ombudsman in the essence of that role, is good governance".

The country's sixth Ombudsman, Hamlison Bulu, has made the above call to all Leaders at this time as they enter the period for the 2020 general election this month.

Indeed, he has been appointed at the right time since now the Ombudsman's Office has finally legally achieved total control of the affairs of the national institution.

Initially the Ombudsman's Office was partly under the control of the Public Service Commission which legally meant the Ombudsman could not carry out an investigation for example, without the involvement of the PSC because it was responsible for appointing the officers for the Ombudsman's Office.

"It meant that the Public Service Staff Manual and other rules applied to the staff of the Office of the Ombudsman so when I arrived in the Ombudsman's Office, I found that it was quite tricky and difficult when I said, 'Let's do this' while the Public Service Commission would say, 'Let's go this way", he recalls.

"There were times when a few complaints came up and the nature was urgent and I needed to appoint investigators quickly to do the work but I couldn't do it because the process that we had to follow under the PSC did not allow for urgent engagement so I could not do what was required.

"The other reason was that Vanuatu has a very small population and Port Vila has a very small population and the Government Service has a very small population. When you live in Port Vila, you basically know everybody. When there is a complaint lodged, there is a risk of conflict of interest because you know the person against whom the complaint has been raised and I cannot move because my hands are tied.

"I needed a mechanism in the legal framework to allow me to use the other option to pursue my function.

"This is the reason why we pushed for those amendments to be passed quickly to allow me the option where when I have a conflict of interest then I can say to this other officer, 'Please can you do this investigation? I am keeping out of it'. This is to avoid a situation where once the investigation is completed, it could be struck down due to my conflict of interest.

"The other reason for the amendment is that because of the nature of the function of the Ombudsman and the Officer that does the investigation of a national leader, there are times when his or her integrity, safety and security is called for".

But Ombudsman Bulu says there is also a provision which allows the Ombudsman to believe that his officer is not safe and is harassed so he can apply to the courts for the protection of the Officer concerned.

This is one of the new provisions available to protect the officers in their duties.

In addition, Ombudsman Bulu says a large section of the community does not fully appreciate the nature and impact of the work that the Ombudsman is responsible for.

It is the Ombudsman's duty to check all leaders to ensure they are operating according to the law. "Is your decision fair? Or are you just looking at this particular group? And so on behalf of the citizens, it is his duty to ensure that their Government is a responsive Government, all its decisions and actions are fair and justice is the outcome of it at the end of the day", he continues.

"But it is not because I favour this group of people because they voted for me, they are from my island or they are members of my political party", he says.

"I call on all citizens of Vanuatu (to say) that it is their right for the Government to be responsive to their needs and the responsiveness has to be fair and not just to as particular group but to all because it is their right to see the Government responsive to their needs in a fair way.

"My second call is to all leaders that we are partners in ensuring that the citizens get the best from their Government in terms of services that go out.

"When a complaint is lodged with the Ombudsman, the Ombudsman contacts the Department concerned, I urge the leaders of the department or the Ministry to be more proactive to sit with the Ombudsman and say, 'How do we resolve this?' instead of our constant call at the workplace without success (because the person is not available), with the publication of a Public Report as the conclusion".

"The Ombudsman wants to ensure that you comply with the law or not or have you made a decision which is totally out? Have you made this decision in compliance with the existing policy or have you focused on self-interests? Or have you made it to benefit just a few people?

"Good governance means actions must be fair, decision must be fair and in accordance with the law and the outcome is a fair decision that everyone benefits from".

The Ombudsman Amendment Act No. 46 of 2019 which came into force on February 6 of 2020, has created two Deputy Ombudsman positions:

Deputy Ombudsman Leadership and Deputy Ombudsman General or Maladministration.

One Deputy Ombudsman is responsible for leadership misconduct and the other is responsible for general and maladministration misconduct.

The two new positions will allow flexibility for the Ombudsman to choose to assign them to carry out certain tasks to avoid any conflict of interest.

Source: Daily Post