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Ombudsman to spread wings

NAIROBI, December 1 – The Public Complaints Standing Committee (PCSC), commonly referred to as the Ombudsman’s Office, expects to establish a presence at the provincial level early next year.

The Executive Director Kenneth Mwige told Capital News in an interview that at present, they had been conducting visits to Kenya’s eight provinces, where members of the public can file complaints.

 “We are now trying to establish a presence at the provincial level.  At the moment we have been having a series of visits to meet complainants at the provinces.  We have done Central, Nyanza, Western, Nairobi, and North Eastern.  This week, we are going to the Coast Province and then the Rift Valley,” he said.

He disclosed that majority of the complaints they had been dealing with were about delays in the provision of public services.

“Kenyans are familiar with rudi kesho (come back tomorrow) or angalia saa nane (check again at 2pm) or file haipatikani wacha tutafute (the file cannot be located.  Give us time to look for it),” Mr Mwige said.

He said the PCSC also deals with complaints about injustice where people say they have not been treated properly or legally by institutions like the police or local authorities.

The PCSC which was established in June 2007 by President Kibaki is an office of public defender or protector.  “It is an office to which members of the public can go to raise issues or concerns or register complaints about the government.”

Other complaints the office has dealt with include misuse of office by public servants in ministries or State parastatals. 

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“We also get a lot of complaints about maladministration.  This is the regular hiccups you get in any organisation or institution.  Maladministration happens when wrong decisions are made without good backing either legal or factual.  For example, people being sacked without being given a chance to give their side of the story,” Mr Mwige said.

Corruption has also been an issue of concern among the public.  “If it’s a case reported which requires investigation we refer it to the Kenya Anti Corruption Commission because they are better equipped to deal with it than we are.”

He said another complaint centred around inaction where files remain in civil servants office for weeks on end, whereas only a simple decision would be required to move it from there to another office so that a member of the public gets due service.

“The problem with this is that somebody may have left Karachuonyo and borrowed money or sold a goat to get fare to come to Nairobi to resolve an issue about their pension or their salary.  When this person gets here and somebody tells them casually come back tomorrow because its approaching lunchtime, it’s unfair because they incur more expenses for accommodation and the whole delay is not good.”

He said when the committee gets complaints; they get in touch with the relevant Permanent Secretaries at the concerned ministry; Managing Director or Chief Executive of State Corporations.

“The reason for this is that we need the accounting officer or the person ultimately in charge to know there is a complaint about their organisation or ministry being raised because we’ve discovered it is all very well to initiate reforms but it is the citizen who tells us where the reforms have not reached or are not working.  It’s the citizen to tell us what needs to be done and where the reforms are failing.”  

He said in most instances where they had received complaints and initiated corrective measures, the resolution had been satisfactory. 

As part of its mandate, the PCSC is required to issue confidential quarterly reports to the President.

“In these reports, we explain to his Excellency the President what we have been doing, the problems we are finding with his government and what recommendations we are making to solve these problems at the root once and for all.”

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Even though the committee was formed last year, his staff has only been in the office since July and face limitations due to the absence of key legislation, but Mr Mwige expects this to change next year.

“We are established as a committee by his Excellency the President in exercise of his executive authority under section 23 of the Constitution.  But, we will progress to having specific legislation under an Act of Parliament and above that also get constitutional anchoring.”

The Act of Parliament will spell out the powers of the committee, responsibilities and mandate.

He said the committee had carried out research into other jurisdictions where such offices exist.

“We have researched into the South African public protector model which works well and is very well funded.   We have looked at the systems in Uganda and Tanzania.  We have also studied the systems in England and Sweden which is said to be the home of the first Ombudsman office established way back in 1809.  So we have a fairly good idea of the development of the office of Ombudsman and more specifically the aspirations the people have of it.”

He said the best models he had seen were those where the office of Ombudsman works very well with the legislative arm of the government under which problems that are caused by bad or outdated laws or even lack of legislation are addressed through Parliament.

The PCSC currently has a staff of 23.  Ten of them are professionals in various fields; lawyers, sociologists and communication experts.  The committee itself has five members.  Four of them are lawyers and the fifth has a business background.

Mr Mwige 36, has a long standing career as a lawyer.  He has worked in the banking sector, NGOs, and in government.  Before joining the PCSC, he worked for the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission as the Personal Assistant to the Executive Director.

“At the PCSC we say Huduma Bora ni Wajibu Wetu (Better Service is our Duty),” is his parting shot.

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