“Who Protects the Protector?”
In commemoration of Ombudsman Month and to raise awareness of the Ombudsman institution, the African Ombudsman Research Centre (AORC) hosted a two-hour discussion highlighting the threats and challenges facing the Ombudsman institution in Africa and the International Ombudsman Institute (IOI) strategy for supporting Ombudsman under threat.
The facilitator was Hon. Chille Wagner Igbawua, Ombudsman of Nigeria, and the speakers included Advocate John Walters, Ombudsman of Namibia; Advocate Dali Mpofu from South Africa; and Mr Leonard Ngaluma, CEO of the Kenyan Ombudsman Office. There was also a pre-recorded video presentation by Mr Werner Amon, Secretary General of the IOI and the Austrian Ombudsman.
Professor Brian McArthur, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Law and Management Studies at UKZN welcomed participants on behalf of the University and Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane, Public Protector, South Africa, President of African Ombudsman and Mediators Association (AOMA) and Chairperson of the AORC Board welcomed them on behalf of these organisations.
Walters’ presentation raised the fundamental and challenging question: “Who Protects the Protector?” His discussion focused on what would constitute the first and second line of protection. He stressed that the Ombudsman is required to protect him or herself by rising above personal motives and interests and being seen to be unprejudiced and impartial. Their integrity should be beyond doubt and they should not only be seen to be independent, but should “live out” that independence.
Ngaluma focused on four main issues and how they affect the effectiveness of the Ombudsman institution, namely, unresponsiveness, reprisals, resource constraints and the need for the Ombudsman’s office to deepen good governance within Africa. With reference to budget cuts, he recommended ‘mobilising strategic donor funding while maintaining the independence of the office of the Ombudsman.’
Mpofu stated that threats are inherent to the job and are an occupational hazard. He is of the view that the office of the Public Protector should be protected in the same way as that as that of the office of a judge. He stressed that the Public Protector’s engagement with the public at grass roots level is very important as the public can see the benefit of the office and have a vested interest in its survival. In this way, the public will protect the Protector.
Amon noted that assisting Ombudsman under threat has become one of the core objectives of the IOI in recent years. The IOI considers a threat as any action which can put the independent operation and exercise of the Ombudsman institution at risk. He described the various threats and the ways in which the IOI provides assistance. Amon concluded by encouraging all participants to contact the IOI when there is concern about a possible threat to their own institution or to a fellow Ombudsman institution.
Words: Ngomu Franky Lwelela