Underutilised Ombudsman!

These institutions make possible efforts, within the deep anchored political, social and bureaucratic constraints, to address and redress grievances of the people

States are social constructs and are intrinsically meant to serve its people. If any state fails to perform such inherent political and administrative tasks, it loses all normative grounds to exist with the same nomenclature. On account of such political conviction, it is always heartening to see if any state institution in Pakistan seems to serve the people amidst the deeply embedded and chronically prevalent culture of bad governance, across the board. In this regard, I have positive experiences regarding the office of the Ombudsman, which has led me to wonder why people do not use these avenues.

In addition to an Ombudsman on Sexual Harassment, Banking Mohtasib, Federal Insurance Ombudsman, Federal Tax Ombudsman, there are federal and provincial ombudsman offices mandated to diagnose, investigate, redress and rectify any injustice arising out of mal-administration in government and in its affiliated offices. The Federal Ombudsman looks after matters taking place in federal bodies; whereas the Provincial Ombudsman looks after such issues of the provincial departments.

Both institutions are so empowered by their mandate that they have powers to take suo motu actions against mal-administration. Additionally, they can take action in response to complaints filed by aggrieved individuals and groups. Furthermore, in case their recommendations and decisions are not implemented by the concerned individuals or agencies; these institutions hold power to take action, the same way a High Court can hold parties accountable ‘in contempt of the court’.

Moreover, no court or other authority can question the validity of any action taken by these institutions. Also, these institutions are independent in the way that their heads are selected and overseen by the Governors, in case of the Provincial Ombudsman and by the President of Pakistan in case of Federal Ombudsman.

In terms of scope, both these institutions can take actions against agencies and public servants. The agencies include departments, commissions and offices or a statutory corporation or other institutions; established or controlled by the government.

In case their recommendations and decisions are not implemented by the concerned individuals or agencies; these institutions hold power to take action, the same way a High Court can hold parties accountable ‘in contempt of court’

In case of the Federal Ombudsman, its mandate also stretches to private bodies where the government has shares. Whereas, the public servant means a public servant as defined in section 21 of the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860, and includes a minister, adviser, parliamentary secretary and the chief executive, director or other officer or employee or member of an agency in question.

Any aggrieved person being a victim of mal-administration, may file a complaint via their website, submit a written application or simply appeal in person.

My personal experiences through working with the Legal Aid Society shows that these institutions make possible efforts, within the deep anchored political, social and bureaucratic constraints, to address and redress grievances of the people. Let me briefly narrate two success cases.

Ghulam Hussain Mallah a resident of village, Muhammad Soomar Mir Bahir, located in Taluka Hyderabad; has three children, one daughter and two sons. He works as a daily wage worker. His CNIC expired in November of 2012. He made countless trips to the NADRA office, but over the last five years he was unable to renew it. The major reason given by NADRA authorities was that he has shaped up differently and his photo identity did not match with his present state. The expiration of his CNIC caused him countless troubles.

However, Ghulam Hussain contacted the Legal Aid Society. The LAS team assisted him in filing an application before the office of the Federal Ombudsperson. The office took notice of the matter and forwarded directions to NADRA. NADRA accepted his application for the new CNIC. He received his CNIC in June 2018 a day before the general elections and casted his vote.

Second is the case of 38 year old Rameeza, resident of a village near Hyderabad, who also had to face prolonged anxiety for the last five years due a matter concerning her CNIC. Her particulars such as her name, her father’s name and her date of birth were recorded incorrectly in her CNIC. It caused her countless troubles. Her applications for jobs in private and public sector were rejected on account of the fact that the particulars in her CNIC mismatched, with her academic documents and records. She made countless trips to the office of National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA); however, every time she returned home being disappointed.

Later, Rameeza along with the LAS team engaged with the office of Federal Ombudsman and filed an application against NADRA. The Ombudsman issued an order in favour of Rameeza. He issued directions to the NADRA official to issue her CNIC with correct details.  She finally has a CNIC now.

There are so many cases which I can share. However, it seems that these institutions which have high potential to provide justice to the people and hold an important role in improving governance and public administration in the country remain underutilised by the people in Pakistan.

Thus, I strongly advise Pakistanis to use these mechanisms to resolve their issues. Civil society organisations, political parties and the media should also play a role in creating public awareness regarding the importance of these institutions.

The writer holds a Master’s degree in Human Rights and Democratisation from the University of Sydney. He can be reached at jamilb4u@gmail.com, and tweets @Jamiljunejo

Published in Daily Times, September 12th 2018.