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NOTICES & DOCUMENTS  

SIERRA LEONE'S OFFICE OF THE OMBUDSMAN PRESS BRIEFING OF 6th OCTOBER 2009
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Oct 9, 2009, 13:38
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THE OFFICE OF THE OMBUDSMAN PRESS BRIEFING OF 6TH OCC TOBER 2009

Good morning Members of the Fourth Estate, let me once again welcome you to another press briefing of the Office of the Ombudsman.

The office of the Ombudsman was established by Ombudsman Act No.2 of 1997. It is an independent institution empowered to investigate complaints from members of the public, who claim to have suffered injustice as a result of mal-administration by central and local government.

The Ombudsman Strategic Plan 2009 to 2013, launched in April 23rd 2009, provides direction for the office in addressing the challenges and highlighting its priority goals for the years ahead. One of the important activities in our five-year strategic plan is to ensure a high level of public awareness that will enhance visibility of the ombudsmans office, improve service delivery, strengthen complainthandling process and improve the perception of the office.

Ombudsman Edmund Cowan

In addressing these challenges, my Executive Secretary, Mr. Charles Wyes, and I, have concluded a three week study tour to South Africa, Malawi, and Namibia; this study tour was organized and funded by the Justice Sector Development Programme (JSDP).

The rationale behind this tour is to have a first hand experience of how the ombudsmans offices in these countries effectively carry out their mandate I mean their complaints handling procedures and investigation, and public awareness programmes, amongst others.

During the study tour, we were able to discover a lot of similarities between these countries visited and ours. We were able to pick up best practices which include complaint handling and investigation procedures, staffing and public awareness programmes, to name a few, which we hope to apply in our daily operations. These are all in line with the Act that created the existence of the Ombudsmans office.

Some of the specific lessons we have learnt from this tour and replicated include complaint handling and investigative procedures. Complaints handing and investigative procedures are benchmarks for any successful investigative process and an Ombudsman outfit.

As a result of these lessons learnt, we have replicated these procedures in our daily operations in order for us to handle complaints in a more professional manner. On receipt of complaints, which can be either verbal or written, an acknowledgement letter is issued to the complainant. The next step is complaint analysis/screening. At this stage, we look into the complaint and see if it is within our jurisdiction, meaning if it falls within our mandate. If it is not within our jurisdiction, we will then advise the complaint accordingly and refer him/her to the appropriate institution.

If the complaint is admissible, meaning it falls within our mandate, we immediately notify the respondent in writing about the complaint alleged against him/her asking him/her own side of the story. When this is done, our investigators undertaken an investigation into the complaint.

After a thorough investigation of any complaint the Ombudsman may recommend to the appropriate authority or official that:

Further consideration of the matter be given
Modification or cancellation of the offending administrative or other act be effected
Alteration of a regulation or ruling be effect
The case be referred to the appropriate person or body in the case where administrative regulations or procedures are inadequate.

Amongst the lesson is the importance of a continuous public awareness campaign that is of the utmost important and an essential tool used in educating the public on the roles and functions of the Ombudsman. A public education programme is therefore ongoing in order to inform the public on the roles and functions of the Ombudsmans office, with an objective of reaching a wide range of audience within the country. We have held various discussion programmes, which will increase the awareness of the public and our workload. One can say the Ombudsman is now a household name.

From the month of July to September, we have received a total number of 96 complaints of which 86% of the complainants are male while 16% women. Complaints received fall under various types of categories that include non payment of salaries and benefits for which we had a total number of 50 complaints, wrongful dismissal with a total number of 14 complaints; harassment with 5; biased and unfair treatment 17 complaints; Matters under investigation are 77. Four cases had been transferred to the appropriate institutions meaning such complaints fall under their jurisdictions. We have concluded about 15 complaints, out of these 14 were in favour of the complainants while 1 was in favour of the institution complained about.

Most Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDA) respond to queries at a slow space, which lengthens the investigative process. Some institutions deliberately refuse to reply to any of our correspondence and others see us as an intruder in their domain. These are reasons why we have 77 complaints under investigation, making it possible for us to conclude more cases.

In the area of staffing, we have recruited Investigators, an Admin/Finance Officer, Secretaries, Information Technology Officer, and a Public Relations Officer.

At this point, let me reiterate to members of the public that the Office of the Ombudsman is on the 5th Floor, No 43 Siaka Stevens Street, Freetown, open from 9.00.a.m to 5:00pm Mondays to Fridays.

Email us at info@ombudsman-sl.org. If you have an issue to be resolved about a Ministry Department or Agency (MDA), do not take the law into your hands. Take your complaints to the office of the ombudsman, where someone will assist you.

Before I end, I would like to register my profound appreciation to the government for providing the enabling environment for us and to the Justice Sector Development Project (JSDP) for the support given to the office by way of funding this press conference and the three-week study tour, which has enabled the office in Freetown to replicate the best practices of the countries visited.

Rising awareness of the Ombudsman Office is among the key priorities developed for the office to effectively carry out its mandate and therefore the importance of developing key partnership with the media cannot be overemphasized. For this, the office renders its profound gratitude to the media for publishing information on its functions so far. The Office of the Ombudsman looks forward to continuously working with the media in order to promote administrative fairness as part of the ongoing reform of the justice system in Sierra Leone.

 

Thank you,


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