Citizens vs. Government
There is certainly no dearth of accusations by citizens of Guyana of governmental malfeasance in the execution of their duties, resulting in violations of the rights of those citizens. Most of these charges go nowhere but, at the very best, into the pages of the newspapers, either in irate letters from the citizens, or more infrequently, from investigative reporting.
What makes this situation quite amazing is that among the fifty-plus members of the Commonwealth, Guyana was the very first to be granted an independence constitution that specifically created an institution to deal with such contingencies: the Office of the Ombudsman.
In one summary of the workings of the office, a study observed that: “the Ombudsman is independent of the bureaucracy and reports only to Parliament; he is directly accessible to the citizen in the Caribbean as in most jurisdictions, Britain and France being the exceptions, citizens have direct access to the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman has powerful tools for investigation – he can inspect agency premises, examine agency records, examine witnesses and require the production of documents. The Ombudsman can initiate an investigation and publish reports on his investigations both to Parliament and the public. Finally, the services do not carry a monetary value. It is important to note that the Ombudsman cannot overturn administrative decisions but can only make recommendations.”
In Guyana, the Ombudsman is appointed by the President, on the advice of the leader of the opposition. Under these circumstances, one has to ask, “Where is our Ombudsman?” There has not been one in Guyana for at least a decade.
Earlier this year the question was raised with the Secretary of the Cabinet, Dr Roger Luncheon. The goodly doctor averred that the government was still working with the leader to find a suitable candidate. It appears, according to Dr Luncheon, that one of the major issues concerns the individual dedicating his/her services full-time, since the Ombudsman cannot perform any other duty, other than the job at hand. “It drives up the asking or the cost in acquiring such skills. Many of the other chairpersons of statutory and constitutional commissions are allowed to do additional work to supplement their income.”
Now we find this one of the most unconvincing responses that could have been offered to such an important and crucial identified need. But what stands out even more clearly, is the apparent complicity of the opposition in allowing the government to evade scrutiny of its excesses and violations of its mandate to violate the rights not only of its constituency, but of all Guyana. How is it that we hear of alleged corruption, such as contracts to cronies by the administration, trumpeted by the opposition, but not a word that a mechanism that could have brought the corrupt officials to heel is not in place? How is it that we hear about racial discrimination by governmental agencies and again the silence about the mechanism?
We are not surprised that the government has not, like Diogenes, gone out with a lamp to look for an honest man, or in this case, an honest man qualified to be a judge. If it is a matter of funding, surely the opposition could have raised this matter in Parliament? It is our considered judgement that there should be a thorough reappraisal of the entire Office of the Ombudsman. It is not only the salary of the Ombudsman that has to be recalibrated: just as important are the investigative resources available to the office. Of what value is the office if the complaints cannot be quickly and thoroughly pursued and brought to parliament?
Two years ago, an individual who recently spoke on APNU’s platform at the Square of the Revolution, asked the question, “Where is the Ombudsman today and what is the precise role of this position (of accusations of rampant abuses of public funds) then and now?” He bemoaned: “the lack of sustained and thoughtful opposition has allowed the government incredible leeway to indulge in all kinds of practices.” We hope the matter will now be raised again.