Polaki plans to turn around ombudsman office

IRENE SEME

MASERU – Advocate Tlotliso Polaki, the new ombudsman who assumed office last month, has her eyes set on reforming and restructuring the office into being a powerful, efficient office that resolves complaints to serve justice for all. She said her vision for the office is to have a more efficient complaint resolution system that will allow the office to achieve better outcomes. Advocate Polaki was addressing a press briefing this week where she made her first public appearance since she was sworn into office in June.

The team will have to review the current office’s strategic plan which she said would have to be aligned with the key priorities of government. “Our role needs to be strengthened and we remain hopeful that the legislative reforms in the form of Omnibus Bill will ultimately be passed. I say this because we had made propositions that the powers of the ombudsman should be reviewed to the extent that the recommendations that emanate therefrom should be binding in nature,” she said.

As of now the recommendations of the ombudsman are mere recommendations which more often than not cause administrative problems. She said this gap gives different stakeholders an opportunity to say they do not have a binding force and they are not legally obliged to comply. Polaki said as a result, the accused may elect not to comply with the recommendations of the ombudsman.

She stated that this has often posed a challenge to the office hence why the office need to periodically refer matters to parliament. Polaki added: “The recommendations of the ombudsman should have a legal and binding force because that will eliminate delays in the system so that we should chase the accused to act according to the recommendations and this will also assist plaintiffs to receive justice quicker without any restrictions.”

She also said that it is critical for the accused comply with the recommendations to avoid a backlog of cases that remain incomplete yet the office would have attended to all of them. There is need to engage regularly with the relevant stakeholders such as Principal Secretaries and parliamentarians since they operate largely as director generals of ministries that need to make sure there is compliance with the orders of the ombudsman.

She said her vision for the office includes training and development of staff without which the team cannot deliver on the mandate of the office. “We need to build a core team of competent and dedicated personnel because they are the ones who will determine our potential to deliver better.” This is one of the key priority areas that the office needs to place more focus on in order to achieve its goal. She said as a result, the office has to change its approach and how it works so as to achieve better outcomes. She noted that her vision includes learning to be responsive to people as the office has to ensure that justice is easily accessed to all citizens.

Polaki said this will be achieved through increasing and enhancing the office’s accessibility to the people by making frequent public appearances. She, however, noted that due to financial constraints the office will have to consider using cost effective means to meet with the communities. “We should endeavour to have more cost-effective interventions that will be very impactful to communities,” said.

As a first step of approaching the communities, Polaki said the office has to establish district complaints intake clinics which will be intensified. She added that the investigation officers from her office have begun to do community outreaches to educate the nation about the duties of this office and how it intervenes to assist. Polaki said in this way her office is decentralising its services to ensure that justice is served for everyone.

She added that the government should have the new five-year long strategic plan because the old one comes to an end this year. She said the ombudsman’s office has to align with already existing priorities of the government in order to fulfill its mandate. Polaki noted that as she stepped into the office, she found a pile of complaints remaining unresolved because the accused have not acted as per the recommendations.

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