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Ombudsman welcomes debate on ‘own motion’ investigations

Eyleen Gomez

The Ombudsman, Dilip Dayaram Tirathdas, has joined his predecessors in calling for the holder of the post to be empowered with the ability to initiate his or her own investigations, rather than only reacting to complaints.

Mr Dayaram Tirathdas joined former Ombudsman’s Henry Pinna and Mario Hook in welcoming news that Parliament will consider a motion, proposed by the GSD, which seeks to extend the powers of the Ombudsman in this way.

In a letter to this newspaper Mr Dayaram Tirathdas said the ability of the Ombudsman to investigate issues of maladministration, without having to rely on receiving a written complaint from the public, would contribute to the delivery of administrative justice in Gibraltar.

“This would also enable the Ombudsman to investigate cases of maladministration that are brought to his attention by people who may be reluctant to make a written complaint,” he said adding: “This invariably happens in practice for a variety of reasons.”

The Public Services Ombudsman in Gibraltar is among the very few such ombudsmen worldwide who are not empowered to conduct own motion investigations.

“After 20 years of the establishment of the Office of the Ombudsman in Gibraltar, the powers available to the Ombudsman under the Public Services Ombudsman Act, 1998 should also be reviewed in order to bring these in line with internationally accepted standards.”

Additionally, Mr Dayaram Tirathdas said he would welcome the full adoption of the ‘Venice Principles’ in Gibraltar.

These are a set of internationally accepted standards for the proper functioning and independence of Public Services Ombudsmen.

“It would be great, in my view, if these international standards of best practice were to be implemented in Gibraltar, as is being done in other European countries and indeed in many other countries around the world with advanced democratic societies like ours.”

“I would recommend that some consideration be given, in due course, to enshrining the ‘Venice Principles’ in the Public Services Ombudsman Act. Incidentally, ‘Own Motion Investigations’ is one of those internationally accepted standards of best practice.”

In a separate letter to the Chronicle Mr Pinna and Mr Hook said they were pleased that Parliament would shortly debate the issue describing it as a “welcome development”.

“We are of the view that the ability of the Ombudsman to investigate any issue of maladministration without having to rely on receiving a written complaint from the public, should not be underestimated,” they said.

“In our view this is a matter that should be regularised by the Government and by Parliament as soon as possible.”

Last month the GSD proposed a motion which calls on the Government to ensure that all the recommendations of the Ombudsman are acted upon in a timely manner, or if not that a proper explanation is given by heads of department on a case by case basis.

This comes after the Ombudsman himself called for a formal mechanism to be put in place to compel the public administration to act on his recommendations as he highlighted how a number of public service administrators had failed to do so.

The motion also noted that the Ombudsman would like to have his powers expanded to include “Own Motion Investigations” in the absence of a formal public complaint, and the GSD will propose a resolution to that effect to amend the legislation

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