Article 55 of the F.D.R.E. constitution provides that the house of people’s representatives shall establish the institution of the ombudsman. This provision authorizes and at the same time imposes a constitutional duty on the house to establish the ombudsman office. This is to mean that the establishment of the office is not optional rather mandatory on the legislature. Accordingly the federal ombudsman office has been established by proclamation 211/2000. The following is a brief overview of the salient features of this office.
The objective of the ombudsman office as stated in article 5, is ensuring the realization of an effective system of public administration rooted in the principles of rule of law and respect for the right of individuals in the administrative process. Article 5 of the proclamation summarizes the objective of the office in the following way.
“…to see to bringing about good governance that is of high quality, efficient and transparent, and based on the rule of law, by way of ensuring that citizens rights and benefits provided for by law are respected by organs of the executive.” This in effect requires the ombudsman to adopt a balanced approach and take into account the practical necessities of public administration and the rights and interests of individual likely to be affected by administrative action.
The preamble part of the proclamation also states that the office is needed to duly rectify or prevent the unjust decisions and orders of executive organs and officials thereof, through hearing grievances and providing prompt redress.
Powers and duties
The ombudsman office has wider powers to enable discharge its functions. These powers as indicated in article 6 are:
- Power of supervision and revision
By this power, the office can supervise administrative directives, practices and decisions of the executive organs so as to ensure that they do not contravene the constitutional right of citizens and the law as well. Given the vast increase in the number of administrative legislations in Ethiopia and the lack of legislative and judicial control in this regard the power of the office to supervise and revise the legality and constitutionality of administrative directives can be taken as a key power of in terms of its likely positive impact in tackling mal-administration and ensuring the protection of the rights of individuals.
The office can also make recommendations for the revision of existing laws, the enactment of new laws and formulation of policies with a view to bringing about better governance.
- investigatory powers
The ombudsman office may conduct investigation in two ways. It may initiate an investigation upon complaint or grievance submitted to it by any interested party pertaining to maladministration. It can also conduct investigation upon its own motion if it has a ground that maladministration has occurred. The investigatory power of the office includes, calling any person as a witness, give order for the production of evidence and request any person to physically appear before it.
Matters falling within the proper scope of power of the ombudsman are listed in article 7 of the proclamation. The office in general has power over ministries, commissions, authorities, agencies, institutions, offices and public enterprises. However it does not have a power to investigate
- Decisions given by the house of people’s representatives and house of federation established in legislative capacity.
- Cases pending in courts of law of any level
- Matters under investigation by the office of the Auditor general
- Decisions given by security forces and units of the defense force in respect of matters of national security and defense.
Independence and Impartiality
The independence and impartiality of an ombudsman may be affected by two factors
b) Qualification, appointment and removal from office
With respect to the first issue i.e. budget of the ombudsman, proclamation 211/2000 has created a favorable condition for the office not to be obstructed from its mission due to financial problems. It has also made the office to be independent with respect to utilizing its own budget.
With respect to the second factor, the proclamation provides detailed criteria and procedures for the appointment and removal of the ombudsman from office. The house of people’s representatives is authorized to appoint the chief ombudsman, deputy ombudsman and other ombudsmen. For this purpose a nomination committee is established in article 11 comprised of the following persons.
- Speaker of the house of people’s representative
- Speaker of house of federation
- 5 Members elected from the house of people’s representatives.
- 2 Members elected by joint agreement of opposition parties having a seat in the house
- President of the federal supreme court
A more or less similar procedure and composition of committee members is also provided for removing the ombudsman from office due to disciplinary grounds as stated in article 15. Hence a tribunal is established in article 16 comprising the following individuals.
- Deputy speaker of the house of people’s representatives
- Deputy speaker of the house of federation
- 3 members elected by the house of people’s representatives
- One member elected by joint agreement of opposition parties
- Vice president of the federal supreme court
The nomination committee and the tribunal established according to the proclamation are expected to submit their recommendation based on some criteria for appointment (Article 12) or grounds for removal from office (Article 15).
One of the basic reasons an ombudsman is advantageous over judicial control lies in the fact that it is simple, speedy and cheap. In other words its prime importance lies in its accessibility.
Accordingly, the proclamation in article 23 has made it very easy for every citizen to lodge a complaint before the office. Any interested person may submit grievances orally, in writing or other means of communication such as e-mail and fax. If the complainant for any reason is unable to submit complaint personally he can access the office through his/her spouse, family members or representatives. Any complaint to the office is free of charge.
Investigation and Remedy
The ombudsman may conduct investigation related to maladministration either upon its own initiation or when there is a complaint by an interested party. In its investigatory power it can:
- Order administrative officials to appear or submit their defense
- Compel witnesses to appear
- Compel the production of evidence
Failure to comply with such orders of the ombudsman entails a criminal liability which may be imprisonment from one month to six months or fine from birr.200 to birr. 1,000 or in some cases both penalties may be imposed.
Based on its findings the office has to seek remedies in order to redress the injury caused to the complainant. However it should be underlined that the ombudsman can not give a binding decision, but only a recommendation to the respondent administrative agency. The agency is expected to comply with the recommendations of the ombudsman. If the recommendation is disregarded by the agency, the ombudsman will then submit a report to the house of people’s representatives which may subsequently take a severe measure against the agency.