Is our ombudsman incapacitated?

(Last Updated On: 31 March 2023)

In each case, the ombudsman as an institution is an open and independent public office with far-reaching powers of investigation. Its Spanish name, Defensor Del Pueblo—“defender of the people”—is an apt description of the nature of its work.

For it is the ombudsman’s job to act as a buffer between the individual citizen and the State, to stand up for the public’s right to good governance. What this means is a government that respects and promotes the fundamental rights of its people, and acts in accordance with the laws of the land and the norms of international law.

It also means a government that is free from corruption and is committed to preventing, in the words of the United Kingdom’s parliamentary ombudsman, “maladministration, leading to injustice”.

In its modern form, the ombudsman is an element in the democratic system of checks and balances, a concept that derives from the American constitutional tradition. It is based on the concept of the rule of law, in which the government not only creates the law but is itself subject to it.

In short, the ombudsman plays an essential role in preventing the State from gaining absolute power without constraints, accountability or controls. For example, if the public is to have confidence in its government, constraints must be imposed on the power it exercises. To be effective, a government needs legitimacy.

In my country Uganda, the Inspector General of Government (IGG) is a supposed “ombudsman” that is mandated to carry on with the defending of the natives.

Recently, the media has been awash with theft of iron sheets by senior government official whom some ‘found iron sheets in their compounds’. The iron sheets were labeled with connotation of ‘Government of Uganda’.

Subsequently, the president also made it worse when he directed the police to carry out investigations well knowing that most of the investigations done by police is ever delayed, hence fulfilling the adage justice delayed is justice denied.

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I would emphasize here that the institution of the ombudsman presupposes a democratic, plural system of government. At the same time, it can contribute to the quality of democracy by making authorities account for the way in which they deal with the public in individual cases.

This assumes, of course, that the public has easy access to the ombudsman. To maintain good relations with the public, the ombudsman has to be effective. The public must, after all, have confidence in the institution. And to generate this confidence, it is essential that the ombudsman maintains a high profile and, above all, that his work yields results.

For without these results, the public will soon feel that there is little point in turning to him. Confidence in the ombudsman also presupposes independence and impartiality—not only of the office, but also of the person holding it.

It is for this reason that I presume that we ought to leave the Inspector General of Government whom by default is our Ombudsman to carry on with investigation of the senior government official so as confidence is built in that institution. For truth be told, the public confidence is still at a low percentage compared to the ombudsman at the moment.

Moses Wawah Onapa. The writer is an educationist and senior citizen, mobile: 0752825849, Email:

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