Thursday, July 18, 2024

Ombudsman position should be strengthened

The office of the Ombudsman faces identity crisis.

Nobody understands for sure just what the office stands for.

Office of the Ombudsman offers an opportunity to not only check on the excesses of those in positions of authority, especially through abuse, but to also provide advice – constructive and unvarnished advice.

To reach its potential the Ombudsman existence needs to be appreciated by those in power.

Nostalgia surrounds the days after it was created and the first occupant of that office investigated the then vice president Ian Khama’s use or misused of army aircraft.

Khama had just left the army to join politics.

The Ombudsman Lethebe Maine came hard on Khama after the Botswana Congress party had reported the vice president to the Office of the ombudsman.

Since then the office has allowed itself to become a shadow of itself.

At least on the face of it and on what transpired in parliament, it was clear that government was unable to account for what looked like an egregious behaviour.

Yet when he was asked to investigate the circumstances surrounding the purchase of Tautona Lodge he turned that down.

This was very odd the purchase had elicited a lot of public attention there were clearly many questions to answer.

But the Ombudsman saw everything to be in order.

For some people the decision by the ombudsman made a mockery of what the public has come to  expect of that office.

A few months later he was appointed ambassador.

A decision by the Ombudsman to refuse to investigate the Tautona Lodge purchase was hurtful and potentially flawed.

Was the Ombudsman’s diplomatic appointment a reward or he was simply being moved?

We shall probably never know.

The status quo fuels suspicions and entrenches uncertainties..

As we speak the office of the Ombudsman and also that of DCEC (Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime) do not have substantive leaders –  for different reasons. That hardly inspires confidence.

But a refusal to investigate circumstances surrounding the purchase of Tautona Lodge has been significant and it cannot be played, whatever the reasons.

There is need to strengthen the office of the Ombudsman by giving it more powers and also clarifying how the Ombudsman is appointed.

At the moment the Ombudsman is appointed by the president after consulting the Leader of opposition.

It is not clear what consultation really means or what was envisaged.

Thus the appointment of a new Ombudsman always degenerates into a melodrama.

This is because the spelt out procedure is not only vague but inadequate. What is supposed to be “consultation” often ends up as a shouting match with the Leader of opposition feeling not enough is being done, or feeling like he is being used to rubberstamp a decision already made.

It is imperative for the president to furnish the Leader of opposition with more reasons why he prefers one person over the others,.

But perhaps, it is also important to take those powers from the president and give them to parliament.

More crucially it is important to make his recommendations more binding to those they are made.

But first the office of the Ombudsman has to demonstrate its desire for willingness.

At the moment the office betrays a behaviour that is tantamount to self-censorship.

Ignoring the recommendations of the Ombudsman should have consequences.

Right now we are in a situation where the executive can run roughshod over key institutions like the DCEC (Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime) and even the Auditor General.

There are currently deep and glaring inadequacies governing the running of the Ombudsman.

The office’s statutory powers are too short of what is needed.

Those powers need to be significantly enhanced. That means strengthening its independence. Of course that will not happen unless the budget is significantly increased and also safeguarded so that it is not at the mercy of the same people who the office might have to investigate as has been the case with Tautona Lodge.


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