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Ombudsman Office celebrates 20th anniversary

The office of the Public Services Ombudsman marks its 20th anniversary today with a reception including Public Service Ombudsman from Malta, England, Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Wales set to attend. Public Services Ombudsman Dilip Dayaram Tirathdas and his team look back on the past 20 years, how the office has progressed and its future.

Since its inception the Ombudsman’s Office has aimed to ensure that people are treated fairly and with respect by Government departments and other public service providers.

The team at the Ombudsman’s Office currently consists of Ombudsman Dilip Dayaram Tirathdas, Deputy Ombudsman Nicholas Caetano, Executive Officer Steffan Sanchez, Executive Assistant Nadine Pardo-Zammit, Executive Senior Investigating Officer Karen Calamaro, and Executive Investigating Officers Sarah De Jesus and Daniel Romero.

Over the years the Ombudsman office had seen three Ombudsmen at the helm, with the first being Henry Pinna who in 1999 set up the office from scratch. Some years later in 2003 Mario Hook took over the post as Public Services Ombudsman where he served for over 14 years until his retirement in 2017.

Mr Dayaram Tirathdas was appointed the role of Public Services Ombudsman in April 2017.

“We have a number of staff members who have been working at the Ombudsman’s Office since the office was established 20 years ago,” Mr Dayaram Tirathdas said.

“It’s a great feeling, for them in particular, to be able to see the progress that has been made over the years. In my case, having been the Ombudsman for less than 2 years, I am delighted to see the good work that is being done daily by the Ombudsman’s Office in providing assistance to so many people in our community.”

“It’s also a great feeling for me to be the Ombudsman who is in office at this point in our history and to be able to celebrate this anniversary marking these 20 years of good work. I am confident that there will be many more years of good service to be provided by all those who have the honour and privilege to serve in the Ombudsman’s Office in the years to come.”

Before the establishment of the Office of the Ombudsman in Gibraltar, the opportunities available to members of the public to pursue grievances against Government departments and other public entities were limited.

When grievances could be followed up in the courts, the remedies available to the court system to facilitate justice in such circumstances were inadequate, and as a result the Ombudsman Office was created.

In October 1987, that the then Leader of the Bar, the late Mr Samuel Benady QC, in his speech at the Opening of the Legal Year, told a crowded courtroom that Gibraltar “lacks the machinery to protect the individual against any act of maladministration by a Government department”.

Mr Benady called on the Government to appoint an Ombudsman to investigate complaints from the public “which cannot be readily dealt with by the present court system”.

He said that there was “a feeling of malaise in Gibraltar” with regard to the lack of remedies available to individuals in the community who had felt that they had suffered an injustice as a consequence of the action or inaction by a Government department.

In April 1999 the Office of the Ombudsman opened its doors to the public, before this there was no independent and dedicated point of contact available to the public for the submission of complaints against any act of maladministration by a Government department.

The Ombudsman’s Office gave people the opportunity to address their grievances without having to go through the judicial system which could prove costly.

This gave people who did not have the resources to pursue judicial action.

The Office of the Ombudsman marked a “big leap forward” in the availability of administrative justice in Gibraltar, outside of the judicial process, according to Mr Dayaram Tirathdas.

The Public Services Ombudsman Act 1998 was passed by the then House of Assembly on December 10, 1998 and the services of the Office of the Ombudsman became available to the public, free of charge, for the protection of the individual rights and interests of the citizens of Gibraltar.

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Over the past 20 years Mr Dayaram Tirathdas added that the work of the Ombudsman’s Office “developed significantly”.

“The Office is now firmly established as an institution that provides an important check on Government departments and other public service providers,” he said.

“The impartiality and independence of the Ombudsman’s Office ensures that the public is provided with an effective mechanism for highlighting and dealing with any maladministration or injustices caused.”

Mr Dayaram Tirathdas commended Gibraltar’s first Ombudsman Henry Pinna for his “excellent job” in growing the Ombudsman’s Office from scratch.

“He managed to provide an efficient and effective Ombudsman service to the public virtually from day one of the opening the office to the public,” Mr Dayaram Tirathdas.

“Upon his appointment, Henry said that his objective as Ombudsman was to make Government Departments ‘more accountable to the general public’. During his three-year term, he did exactly that and in the process, he gained the respect and admiration of the whole community.”

Mr Pinna was followed by Mario Hook who began his role by launching a public awareness campaign about the Ombudsman’s Office.

Mr Hook later arranged a programme of visits to Comprehensive schools in a bid to create an awareness of the Ombudsman’s Office from an early age.

“His commitment to the continuous professional training of staff members, including staff attendance at international conferences, casework interest group meetings and seminars has helped tremendously in developing the professionalism of our staff members and in the quality of the service now being provided by Ombudsman’s Office to the public,” Mr Dayaram Tirathdas.

“Mario raised the standing of the Office of the Ombudsman internationally too. He arranged for our membership of the Ombudsman Association and of the International Ombudsman Institute. The Gibraltar Public Services Ombudsman is also a member of the Public Sector Ombudsman Group (“PSOG). The members of the PSOG include public sector ombudsmen from England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Malta.”

Now the Ombudsman’s Office looks forward to the next 20 years where it sees itself playing an increasingly crucial role in the local community.

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But its aim remains the same as it did when the Office first opened its doors: To ensure that people are treated fairly and with respect by Government departments and other public service providers.

“In short, the Ombudsman’s Office sees itself as a guardian of the rights of the people, especially the more vulnerable members of our community who may not have any other recourse for assistance,” Mr Dayaram Tirathdas said.

“We will continue to be here to listen to and investigate complaints received about any alleged maladministration by Government departments and public service providers. Our ultimate aim is to make sure that our public services are provided fairly, in accordance with the rule of law, and in a manner that does not result in injustices and breaches of human rights.”

“We want to continue to make a positive contribution towards the improvement in the way that Gibraltar’s public services are delivered for the benefit of the whole community.”

As part of the 20th anniversary celebrations the Ombudsman’s Office recently issued a postage stamp that is included in the first 50 annual reports collected from the office over the course of this month.

The anniversary will also be marked with a semi-annual Public Sector Ombudsman Group meeting tomorrow.

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