Saturday, July 31, 2021

Ombudsman backlog resolution rate drops amid Covid

The Ombudsman Augustine Makgonatshotlhe, has told the parliamentary committee on governance and oversight that the number of cases they have opened and closed has gone down because of Covid-19.

While giving his report to the parliamentary committee chaired by Mabuse Pule, Member of Parliament (MP) for Mochudi East and the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Makgonatsotlhe said this year they did not resolve as many cases.

“Cases received in 2020/21 were 472, and these were your general complaints from the public,” he said. Cases opened and closed in 2020/2021 were 232, and these are cases the Ombudsman has dealt with, giving, a resolution rate of 49.2%. “Cases carried forward previous years were 629 or you may call it backlog,’ Makgonatshotlhe said. 

Assistant Minister for Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration, Dumezweni Mthimkhulu in parliament last year said, during the financial year 2019/20, the Office of the Ombudsman registered a total of 483 new complaints. “Out of this total, 195 complaints were resolved as of November 2019, representing a resolution rate of 40 per cent,” Mthimkhulu said. That being the case, “the office of the Ombudsman has been grappling with a huge backlog of cases from previous years and has in the last financial year, recorded a huge reduction of backlog cases as it recorded a 91.8 per cent backlog resolution rate.”

The assistant minister said this positive achievement by the ombudsman in backlog resolution was made possible by closer engagement of the ombudsman with ministries and departments to deepen understanding of the process of complaint resolution.

So, then why the drop this year? “I remember at one time we did say that we had managed to deal sufficiently with our backlog, and we had high percentages in terms of backlog resolution,” the ombudsman said. “But this time around we are going down, for various reasons, one of them is because last year there was Covid-19 pandemic which affected our operations like any other government departments and agencies,” he added.

Statistics of opened cases at the ombudsman indicate that complaints against different ministries vary, with some ministries generating greater numbers of complaints than others. Makgonatsotlhe told Pule and his committee that the Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security had a total of 111 complaints mainly against the Administration of Justice, the Prisons Department and the Botswana  Police Service. “Most of these complaints are from the criminal justice system pertaining to delays in bail applications, appeal hearings, and delayed case records, which are the starting point for any appeal,” he said.  

Makgonatshotlhe added that the delays by ministries to respond to enquiries and also to effect corrective action causes a backlog of complaints and thereby increase the caseload and the workload per investigator. The ombudsman’s office is also incapacitated, with the ratio of cases per investigator standing at 80:1, which places Botswana as one of the countries in Southern Africa to be overladen with complaints. 

Makgonatshotlhe said the failure or delays in effecting corrective action is again an indictment on public administration it perpetuates maladministration and injustice to complainants.

The Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development had the second-highest number of cases at 67 arising mainly from local authorities and to some extent ministry headquarters. The Ministry of Health and Wellness followed at 58 complaints whilst the Ministry of Basic Education generated 52 complaints.

On the lower scale, the office of the ombudsman received no complaints against the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, two complaints against the Ministry of Nationality, Immigration and Gender Affairs, and three complaints from the Ministry of Youth Empowerment, Sport and Culture Development.

Makgonatshotlhe reminded MPs of Botswana’s biggest education blunder, purveyed by former tertiary education minister Unity Dow. Part of the ombudsman’s strategy is to conduct systemic investigations, just like the Department of Tertiary Education Financing (DTEF), the Botswana Qualifications Authority (BQA) and Civil Aviation Authority (CAAB) case.  

“The investigation revealed acts of maladministration and gross irregularities in IAS having been listed as an accredited local private institution by DTEF whilst not qualifying as such, and BQA proceeding to instantly grant it accreditation with no regard to their legally binding accreditation instrument, further CAAB supporting the accreditation by a clearance letter which was unprocedural in terms of the certification process and which in effect exerted undue influence on BQA,” Makgonatsotlhe said. To Pule’s dismay, the ombudsman revealed that as a result, the government lost P155 089 030.05 while students were left with no qualification and an uncertain future.

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