The outgoing ombudsman of Namibia, John Walters, has expressed deep regret that he will leave the office with unfinished business.
Walters, Namibia’s third permanent ombudsman since independence, was due to retire at the end of July, but was reappointed by President Hage Geingob as acting ombudsman for two more months.
He has been serving in the position since July 2004.
The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) two weeks ago interviewed three candidates, Ruth Herunga, Tousy Namiseb and Basilius Dyakugha, for the position.
Dyakugha was appointed as the new ombudsman with effect from 1 October 2021, as per the recommendation of the JSC.
According to the ombudsman’s annual report for 2020 tabled in the National Assembly by Speaker Peter Katjavivi on Wednesday, Walters indicated that although the biggest activity of the office during the past year was the core business of receiving and investigating complaints, he leaves unfinished business.
In 2020, the office received 2 590 approaches (complaints and other approaches such as requests for information or advice), compared to 3 203 in 2019, a decrease of 613. Of the total number of approaches received, 1511 were jurisdictional, compared to 1 819 in 2019, a decrease of 408; 502 were non-jurisdictional, and 592 were requests for information or advice.
Walters in particular touched on the draft White Paper on the Rights of Indigenous People developed by his office.
He said the white paper lies somewhere in an office, while Geingob on 17 March 2019 in his State of the Nation Address said “a draft White Paper on the Rights of Indigenous People in Namibia has been developed and is due for Cabinet approval.”
He said the National Human Rights Action Plan (2015-2019), also developed by his office, had seen him mandated to implement it with no or sometimes little resources, and thus did not achieve its desired outcomes.
“This would not have happened if only I was provided with an appropriate level of funding to guarantee my independence and my ability to freely determine my office’s priorities and activities, and the power to allocate funding according to these priorities. If the Ombudsman hopes to remain relevant, effective and efficient, the new Ombudsman’s Bill must be passed into law as a matter of urgency,” Walters advised.
That Bill addresses all the challenges of the ombudsman, and gives expression to the constitutional guarantee of the independence of the ombudsman.
The ombudsman’s strategic goal of establishing a sixth regional office in one of the Kavango Regions was also not realised.
“All our efforts were directed to obtain proper offices for our staff at Otjiwarongo, who are currently accommodated in a single office (10m²) that was made available to us by the regional director of education. We were unfortunately not successful, but will continue the search in the new year,” he added.
Walters stressed that some individuals and institutions deserve gratitude for their excellent cooperation with the ombudsman, while reminding those who failed to work with his office that their failure is a failure of public service delivery to citizens, to which they are entitled.
Equally, the government also deserves gratitude for providing the resources to comply with statutory duties, but he cautioned that any cut in the Ombudsman’s budget is a cut in its effectiveness.
“I am grateful to the Government of the Republic of Namibia for appointing me as ombudsman, for I have learned to serve with joy. I am grateful for the mistakes I have made, for they taught me the most. I am grateful for all my critics, for they have kept me humble,” Walters remarked. –firstname.lastname@example.org