24th September 2016, 10:35 AM
Transformation of institution of Federal Ombudsman in Pakistan
More than 200 years after it was first established, the ombudsman (meaning 'agent or representative of the people') is a significantly different institution from its ancestor.
Most countries now have ombudsmen, some with different titles, which include: People's Advocate, Public Defender, Mediator and Commissioner for Human Rights. The institution of ombudsman is often provided in the constitution. Ombudsmen are mandated to be independent and non-partisan.
Their fundamental duty is the same: To protect individuals against unlawful, unfair, and unreasonable treatment by their public authorities. And, in so doing, they promote and protect human rights, the rule of law and good governance, and make government more fair, consistent, reasonable and humane.
Ombudsmen are often appointed by and report to the Parliament. They are increasingly becoming defining characteristics of modern democracy. The ombudsman, who addresses governmental maladministration, is no longer the only, or even primary, way he fulfills his responsibilities. Focus has shifted to include emphasis on human rights, civil rights, anti-corruption and topical specialisation, for example child rights and welfare, prisons, housing. The scope of the ombudsman's jurisdiction has also moved beyond what only encompassed governmental maladministration, as will be described later.
Pakistan was the first country in the Asian continent to establish the institution of Wafaqi Mohtasib (Federal Ombudsman), in 1983. It followed the mention of the institution of ombudsman in the 1973 Constitution. A provision in the principles of the state policy in the said Constitution required the state to ensure inexpensive and expeditious justice.
The establishment of the office of Federal Ombudsman in Pakistan was followed by the establishment of offices of Ombudsmen for Tax, 4 provinces and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan also took the lead in establishing offices of what is known as hybrid ombudsmen for private banks and insurance companies. Three offices of ombudsmen for protection of women against harassment at work places also have jurisdiction over private workplaces. In 2013, the jurisdiction of Federal Ombudsman was also extended to private agencies licensed or registered by the federal government, and to agencies with minority shares owned by the government.
Till 2013, in Pakistan, the role of ombudsmen remained largely confined to redressal of complaints of maladministration. Though inexpensive for complainants, redressal of complaints generally took several months, and sometimes years. Ombudsmen only had recommendatory powers in case of defiance of their findings. There was no enabling provision for ombudsman to review his findings on application by the complainant. Vacancy of ombudsman remained unfilled for long durations resulting in suspension of ombudsman work for several months or years, or the position of ombudsman used to be filled on officiating basis, and such arrangement too sometimes continued for years. Representations to the president were required to be routed through Ministry of Law (in case of Federal Ombudsman and Federal Tax Ombudsman) and processing used to take several months, even years. Representations against other ombudsmen were required to be submitted to State Bank, Securities and Exchange Commission (SECP) etc.
When the incumbent Federal Ombudsman, M. Salman Faruqui, assumed acting charge as Federal Ombudsman, 75,000 complaints were lying un-disposed for two years or more (some of them 2 to 10 years old), largely because the position of ombudsman remained unfilled for almost two years. Contracts given to Advisers/Investigating Officers (mostly retired BS-18 and 19 civil servants) by the previous Ombudsman had expired in 2010. For the first time these positions were advertised, and an external committee headed by Federal Tax Ombudsman and including federal secretaries selected their successors.
In dealing with complaints of maladministration the incumbent Federal Ombudsman laid emphasis on mediation, instead of “bullying”, to redress complaints, based on the intellectual logic of reasons, experience and goodwill. WMS advisers are generally retired judges and public servants, with 25 to more than 35 years experience in public administration. It was also discussed and decided that investigation on a complaint or own-initiative should not be denied on the ground of time bar because of general lack of awareness about the existence of Federal Ombudsman and his charter to redress maladministration.
The incumbent Federal Ombudsman extensively consulted several serving and retired ombudsmen and civil society, and studied ombudsmen practices elsewhere, and moved a summary for the Cabinet to promulgate a new law to reform the existing federal legislations for all the five federal ombudsmen, to lay down timelines for disposal of complaints, empower ombudsmen to entertain review applications and to implement their findings, etc.
Ordinance 1 of 2013 was promulgated on February 12 to give legal cover to the proposals, after they were approved by the Cabinet. After extensive discussions on incumbent Federal Ombudsman’s reform proposals as contained in the Ordinance, by the parliamentary committees, the Reforms Bill was passed in record time, and the Federal Ombudsmen Institutional Reforms Act 2013 was promulgated on March 20, 2013.
Some of the salient features of the Reforms Act are: The position of Ombudsman will not remain vacant at any time, ombudsman has been authorised to exercise powers of a civil court to implement his orders and decisions, and to punish for contempt under the Contempt of Court Ordinance 2003, allowed complete administrative and financial autonomy, given the power to enforce any finding, order or decision and appoint grievance commissioners or commissioners with such powers as specified by him.
Pursuant to the Principles of Policy in the Constitution, provisions have been made for the first time, through the Reforms Act 2013, for expeditious disposal of complaints. The agencies are required to submit written comments in a complaint within fifteen days, and the ombudsman is required to dispose of complaints within sixty days, and review petitions within forty five days. Unprecedentedly, representation filed with the president must be decided within ninety days, after processing by a person who has been or is qualified to be a judge of the Supreme Court.
The WMS team of Advisers under leadership of current Federal Ombudsman, Salman Faruqui, disposed of the entire backlog of 75,000 complaints, and every fresh complaint was redressed within sixty days. There was zero backlog by the end of the year 2014.
WMS Advisers voluntarily decided to further reduce the disposal time for complaints, and successfully brought it down to forty five days during 2015. This was an unprecedented system achievement for any ombudsman.
In 2015, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ruled as follows:
“In view of the Ombudsman offices mandate, it is not sufficient to just address individual complaints, the Ombudsman offices must address systemic failures that are the root causes of “maladministration” and formulate and enforce standards of “good administration” as envisaged by the law.”
Though a provincial subject, the Supreme Court directed the Federal Ombudsman to examine the working of police stations and the prisons in Pakistan and to give suggestions on how to make the police stations citizen-friendly, and require the prisons to deal with inmates fairly, and to provide them skills and training, so that when they return to the society, they are useful citizens. Federal Ombudsman’s reports, based on extensive research and input by very experienced public administrators and civil society, are now under consideration of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, and the concerned government agencies. Another committee has since been constituted to undertake prisoners’ welfare through philanthropy.
The Federal Ombudsman constituted a committee comprising the country's top experts in legal fields and public administration and leaders of civil society to advise on swift complaint resolution and extension of Ombudsman’s outreach closer to the doorsteps of the complainants. The Government Agenda for Change, 2013 also emphasised extension of the outreach. Pursuant to the committee's recommendations, Federal Ombudsman moved the Council of Common Interest and Inter Provincial Coordination Committee to authorise the federal and provincial ombudsmen to hear and decide complaints against federal, provincial and local public administrations under the same roof at district/tehsil headquarters, closer to the doorsteps of the complainants, and redress the complaints within fifteen days.
While IPCC or CCI decision is awaited, the Federal Ombudsman launched on his own-initiative a pilot project on January 27 this year, and successfully started hearing and deciding complaints in 36 district headquarters and 90 tehsils, within 15 days, in phases 1 and 2. His Advisers are currently visiting as many of the 138 districts and 435 tehsils as possible, and hearing and deciding complaints, wherever temporary make-shift infrastructure is available. However, they are handicapped due to lack of government owned transport vehicles, and necessary infrastructure.
The average annual disposal of complaints in the previous thirty years used to be about 16,500. During the current tenure of Salman Faruqui 2, 59,209 complaints have been redressed, and thus relief provided to as many families, without any cost to them, and without making them to wait for more than forty five days, and in several cases only 15 days, to get relief. This is perhaps the largest number of resolved formal complaints for any ombudsman elsewhere.
On the proposal of incumbent Federal Ombudsman, the government has extended his jurisdiction to Fata tribal areas. For the first time in history, residents of Fata are able to complain even against political agents, and get relief within days. Three grievance commissioners designated by the Federal Ombudsman and belonging to Fata hear and decide Fata complaints.
As stated above, advisers are no more confining themselves to complaint resolution.
Children population in Pakistan constitutes about 50% of our population. In 2015, Federal Ombudsman carried out an extensive study, and issued a well researched ‘State of Children Report,’ in collaboration with Unicef. The 45 countries have child ombudsmen. In the absence of such an institution in Pakistan, the Federal Ombudsman arranged consultancy, and on the report of the former child ombudsman of Norway, he appointed a National Commissioner for Children, and with the co-operation of provincial ombudsmen, notified Provincial Child Commissioners (including for AJK). He also constituted a National Committee for Children headed by former president of the Human Rights Society and Supreme Court Bar Association, SM Zafar.
On the recommendation of the National Committee, Federal Ombudsman constituted 13 committees of commissioners (similar to High Court benches) comprising one representative each of the civil society, and that of Federal Ombudsman and the concerned provincial ombudsman to hear and decide complaints by and on behalf of children, and suo moto issues identified by the committees. Children complaints can also be lodged on dedicated phone number 1056.
Pakistanis living and working overseas exceed 8 million, and had no formal recourse for redressal of maladministration by government agencies against them and their families living in Pakistan, as also when traveling through Pakistan international airports, and in respect of their properties. Federal Ombudsman appointed a dedicated Grievance Commissioner to redress their complaints, and constituted a committee to recommend measures for looking after them. His efforts have borne fruit. Grievance Commissioner was able to persuade the dealing agencies at the airports, and opened nine Facilitation Desks at the international airports in Pakistan which function round the clock, manned by the representatives of all the agencies working at the airports, to instantly resolve complaints and ensure that travelling overseas Pakistanis are not unduly inconvenienced.
Federal Ombudsman’s exclusive website for overseas Pakistanis has interface with websites of all dealing and draws attention to and requires urgent processing of complaints of overseas Pakistanis. Pakistan ambassadors abroad are required to allocate one day in a week to meet with complainant overseas Pakistanis, without prior appointment, and to pay more attention to Pakistani prisoners.
Pakistan has more than 2.5 million pensioners. There were reports of long delays and maladministration in sanction and payment of pensions. Few died in pursuit of their pensions. Federal Ombudsman appointed dedicated Grievance Commissioners for Pensioners, and constituted a committee chaired by the former Auditor General. Pension papers are now being finalised before retirement and pension payments have started within 30 days of retirement. Pensioners are now allowed to draw their pension through any bank of their choice. Federal agencies are required to notify focal persons to deal with pension matters.
Federal Ombudsman’s offices take notice of persistent systemic failures in any agency, and constitute expert committees to recommend measures to eliminate/reduce complaints of maladministration and enforce standards of good administration. They have been quite successful. A brief list of committees, including some currently engaged in preparing their recommendations, is as follows:
Committees formed by the Honourable Wafaqi Mohtasib which have already submitted their Reports/Studies
Title of the report
1. Report on Measles Outbreak in Pakistan Vol-I & Vol-II. 2. Report of the Inquiry Committee into the Causes of Delay in Issuance of Machine Readable Passports (volume-I& II). 3. Interim Report on the working of Civic Agencies. 4. Report of the Investigating Committee for Investigation and Suggesting reforms in the Pension System of Pakistan Railways. 5. Report on the Cognizance of Tragic Incident of Death of 57 Persons in Bus-Truck Accident Near Khairpur – Sindh.
6. Alternate Dispute Resolution at the grassroots Level within 60 days by joint teams of federal and provincial Ombudsman (Mohtasib). 7. Report on Public Complaints of Maladministration and Deficiencies in Pakistan Post Office Department and Suggested Remedial Measures.
8. Report on Pakistan Railways in regard to Maladministration in Settlement of Pension Claims and Allotment of Accommodation to its Employees and Suggested Measures for Improvement. 9. Wafaqi Mohtasib Reports on Prisoners with Special Reference to Children and Women Prisoners. 10. Proposal for free and speedy resolution of citizen complaints against maladministration of federal, provincial and local government agencies under one roof at the grassroots. 11. A study of Accountant General of Pakistan Revenues (AGPR) Lahore by the office of Wafaqi Mohtasib.
12. Committee Report for Transforming Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) Islamabad into a Leading Centre of Excellence. 13. Federal Ombudsman of Pakistan complaints Resolution Mechanism for Overseas Pakistanis in their Country of Residence and in Pakistan and their Facilitation at Airports in Pakistan: 14th Asian Ombudsman Association Conference in Islamabad, Pakistan (24-25 November 2015). 14. Federal Ombudsman of Pakistan Speedy complaint resolution: Extending outreach of alternate dispute resolution (ADR) Mechanism for federal and provincial Ombudsmen to the grass roots level: An independent study conducted by The World Bank. 15. Federal Ombudsman of Pakistan Report of the National Committee on Prisons Constituted by the Federal Ombudsman of Pakistan pursuance of the orders of The Honourable Supreme Court of Pakistan. 16. Report on the functioning of National Database and Registration Authority: Federal Ombudsman of Pakistan (Dr Tariq Sardar Director General (Incharge) Regional Office Faisalabad.) 17. Federal Ombudsman of Pakistan Citizen Report Card of the institution of Wafaqi Mohtasib (Federal Ombudsman) of Pakistan (An independent study conducted by The World Bank). 18. Federal Ombudsman.
Source: The NEws