Namibia’s Ombudsman Advocate John Walters has assured the public that his office is accessible and always ready to help with complaints. In a wide-ranging interview with New Era, Walters explained the mandate of his office and the duties he takes on.
Appointed by the president, on the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission until retirement at age 65, the Ombudsman deals with complaints from the public against government and other institutions. “We’re in fact the protector of the people on the street,” Walters stressed.
The Office of the Ombudsman was established in terms of Act 7 of 1990 as an independent office subject only to the Constitution and the law. The main functions and duties of the Ombudsman include receiving and investigating complaints relating to maladministration, the violation of human rights and freedoms, the misappropriation of public money and the misuse of government property.
The over-utilisation of living natural resources and the irrational exploitation of non-renewable resources – in brief the protection of the environment – is also one of his key mandates.
He also differentiated between his office and that of the Anti-Corruption Commission, saying that while they work closely together, they do not interfere in each other’s area of jurisdiction. According to Walters, once a complaint is received it is fully investigated and the outcome is communicated to the offending party and the complainant.
In cases where they find there is merit in the complaint the Ombudsman will assist complainants to institute a civil claim in the courts of law. One case in point Walters said, was that of a man who was forgotten in jail.
In that case the complainant was awarded a substantial amount, but the government appealed the decision and the matter is still pending in the Supreme Court.
According to Walters, his office has in the past 25 years that he has been in the position handled complaints against every tier of government, totalling 33 887 cases, including requests for information, advice and other miscellaneous matters.
A total of 26 334 jurisdictional complaints were handled since Independence, which includes 14 303 between June 1990 and December 2009 , as well as 12 031 between January 2010 and December 2015.
Walters said this is indicative of the frequency with which people turn to the Ombudsman for help. He stressed that the citizens of Namibia have the right to complain against government and have the right to make use of the Office of the Ombudsman, without fear of reprisal.
“Each and every person who complains to the Ombudsman feels that his or her complaint is very important and we always do our best to help them,” Walters said. “While we do not have major achievements, if we can turn around the circumstances in which complainant found themselves, it is an achievement for us, he enthused.
A case in point, he said, involves people who are entitled to receive an old age pension, but cannot access it because of a lack of identity documents. Such persons should approach the Ombudsman for help.