ACC No Threat to Ombudsman

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By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK There has been public fear that the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and the Office of the Ombudsman are carrying out similar roles and functions, especially when it comes to tackling corruption. The alleged duplication is causing confusion, some members of the public claim. Since the inauguration of the ACC offices beginning this year, concern has been raised that the new office has somehow made the Ombudsman’s office redundant. However, according to the ACC, this is not the case as the two institutions merely complement each other’s activities. In a recent interview with New Era, ACC Director Paulus Noa said his office is working closely with the Office of the Ombudsman especially on cases of corruption. While the ACC investigates complaints of alleged corruption cases lodged at its offices in both government and private institutions, the Ombudsman’s office also focuses on investigating the same problem of corruption, but only in government entities like parastatals and local authorities. “All corruption related complaints are sent to us, while we send all cases of human rights violations to the Ombudsman’s office. We therefore do referrals for them to do their investigations,” explained Noa. In essence, it means that although the Ombudsman’s office was established to deal with all kinds of human rights violations like unfair dismissals at work, late salary payments and delayed pension payouts, it also addresses issues of maladministration in the public service and protection of the environment. The ACC on the other hand is a special unit that tackles corruption at all levels of society, whether it be mal-administration, theft and fraud in both the public and private sectors. What makes the ACC different from the other institution is that it has the power to prosecute and arrest any suspect. “We have the power to prosecute and can be delegated to commissions’ (as ) investigating officers by the Prosecutor General,” added Noa. Powers of the Ombudsman are however limited when it comes to taking such action and rather refers corruption cases to the ACC for perusal and action. “We have no power to arrest or search private property and at the end of the day, we can only make recommendations. After investigating a case, we throw the half towel to the commission,” explained Ombudsman John Walters. Although the roles of the two offices complement each other, they do not duplicate investigations or functions, but rather serve to assist each another in dealing with the numerous cases that come in. Since many Namibians are still not well aware of their human rights, the Ombudsman’s office is now undertaking an intensive campaign to address this issue where it will be holding awareness campaigns in this regard. Other powers of the Ombudsman are to send out summonses, seize official documents related to cases, investigate complaints, make recommendations and subpoena anyone to appear before court especially in cases of human rights violations and maladministration in public places. Walters denies claims that the office is redundant, as complaints about human rights violations have more than doubled over the past year. Since March last year, the regional offices have received more than 2 300 complaints, while investigators are also being sent out in two weeks’ time to the Otjozond-jupa Region’s Gam, Tsumkwe and Mangetti areas. In the spirit of allowing the public to have the freedom to lodge complaints, both institutions do not turn people away, but rather refer the cases to each other where appropriate. “The functions for both are to amicably solve a particular problem, we don’t chase people away,” said Noa. Both the ACC and the Ombudsman’s office work within the provisions of their individual separate Acts. Hence, there is a need for both institutions to co-exist. Whereas the Ombudsman’s role should be seen more as that of “mediator without fear or favour”, the ACC “takes actual action process” against corruption.