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Independence of ombudsman’s office ‘compromised’

2021-05-19  Kuzeeko Tjitemisa

Independence of ombudsman’s office ‘compromised’

Former deputy ombudsman Ephraim Kasuto yesterday said the Office of the Ombudsman should be an autonomous body.

He said the current arrangement compromises the independence of the ombudsman’s office.  Kasuto made the remarks at the launch of the 30th anniversary booklet of the ombudsman’s office in Windhoek yesterday.

The event was among others graced by former ombudsman Bience Gawanas and Hanns Seidel Foundation resident representative Clemens von Doderer. 

Kasuto served under the late Fanuel Kozonguizi as the deputy ombudsman from March 1993 to March 1997. 

He acted as the ombudsman from 1995 to 1996 after the death of Kozonguizi. Gawanas was the country’s ombudsman from December 1997 to September 2002. “It is not my intention to bore you with what the ombudsman needs for its continued existence. 

I think the honourable ombudsman and his staff are in a better position to know about that. All I say is that an ombudsman institution can only operate effectively in a system of government where it is properly accommodated,” Kasuto said. 

He added that for the Ombudsman’s office to be independent, it requires to be “delinked” from the justice ministry.  

Kasuto’s sentiments were also shared by Gawanas, who said while serving as ombudsman, she needed to beg the justice ministry to buy her office computers or even stationery - a situation she said hindered the operations of the office.     Speaking at the occasion, outgoing ombudsman John Walters said the booklet tells the story of humble beginnings, a journey of small steps but which left inerasable footprints of the institution and staff. 

He said the booklet describes the origin, establishment and development of the office, and also tells the story of how a small office successfully managed to deal with multiple functions. 

“Despite the fact that there have been a number of changes in our work environment, the staff remained committed and focused on providing quality services to our people,” Walters told the audience, adding that it was important to recognise that the success of the office is the result of the hard work of staff, past and present.  

The constitution assigns a range of functions to the ombudsman. These include the duty to investigate complaints about violations of fundamental rights and freedoms, abuse of power, corruption, “unfair, harsh, insensitive or discourteous treatment of an inhabitant of Namibia by an official in the employ of any organ of government”, and complaints about the over-utilisation of Namibia’s living natural resources, the irrational exploitation of non-renewable resources, or the degradation and destruction of the country’s ecosystem, and failure to protect the beauty and character of Namibia.

2021-05-19  Kuzeeko Tjitemisa

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