I am delighted to be here today on behalf of the EU Ambassador to the Republic of Malawi to make some remarks at the occasion of the opening ceremony of the conference of African Ombudsman Institutions focusing on their role in promoting ethics, transparency and accountability in the public sector.
The overall objective of the conference which is building and enhancing competences of the Ombudsman and their staff in promoting good governance in the public sector resonates very well with public sector reform agendas of many countries in Africa in particular Malawi. Contemporary theories of managing the public sector have necessitated many reforms across the world but all with the sole purpose of improving the delivery of services in a transparent, accountable and optimal manner. Globally, Offices of the Ombudsman are crucial for the promotion of good governance.
Today, at this conference, I would like to focus on two main areas namely:
1/ First, the Role of Ombudsman Institutions and the state of public governance in Africa;
2/ Second, What should be done differently for Ombudsman Institutions to influence change?
Let me start by addressing the first point;
Guest of Honour, ladies and gentlemen, Ombudsman institutions are key players in the entrenchment of democratic values and good governance across the world. As you may be aware, strengthening democratic governance, domestic accountability and access to justice especially for women, girls and vulnerable groups are at the centre of the objectives of the EU in Malawi and beyond.
For this to be achieved Ombudsman institutions have an important role to play. In view of the mandate that you have which borders on checking maladministration in the public sector, you are expected to be vigilant at influencing policy changes and changes in legal frameworks, all aimed at consolidating democracy and serving the people better.
Here in Malawi, the EU is supporting the Office of the Ombudsman through our governance programme called Chilungamo (Justice and Accountability) and it is encouraging to see the strides that the office is making. For example:
The positive feedback that we continue to receive from different stakeholders on how our support is contributing to improved administration of the public sector is very encouraging.
The examples given above depict your advocacy for the voiceless in promoting access to equal justice, especially for the vulnerable.
To you Madam Ombudsman (Martha Chizuma), I say well done for the strategic direction that you are taking and for bringing that institution back on track. You have the confidence of many stakeholders including development partners working in Malawi.
While Ombudsman Institutions in the Africa region continue to gain prominence and draw the attention of the cooperating partners to join hands in tackling maladministration, the state of public governance in the region is showing a worrying trend.
Global Indicators on public governance showing a down ward trend in many countries, make it difficult to picture a prosperous and accountable region.
As accountability institutions, offices of the Ombudsman have a noble task to check decisions that are made for the general administration of the public sector in the framework of domestic accountability and access to administrative justice especially for those whose voices cannot be heard by the authorities.
Ladies and gentlemen, while we acknowledge that the state of public governance is dictated by many factors, the Office of the Ombudsman has a crucial advisory role to play and more importantly to bring issues of maladministration to the fore with the aim of correcting the situation.
I have no doubt that your Governments would be delighted to see your institutions taking a proactive approach in this regard. Equally important to the work of the Ombudsman Institutions is the crucial role of the Courts in assessing the determinations made by the office. A healthy relationship between the two institutions goes a long way in promoting and consolidating good governance in the public sector and a country as a whole. My experience in different jurisdictions is that, in most cases, the two institutions compete instead of drawing and building synergistic relationships to improve the lives of many people out there.
Crucially linked to the mandate of Ombudsman Institutions is the role of Anti-corruption agencies, Human Rights Institutions, civil society organisations and other governance institutions focusing on accountability. These are critical stakeholders in any democratic dispensation that shape the governance record of any country. May I therefore urge you to work in a collaborative manner to improve the state of public governance in your respective countries.
A country with a good governance record attracts serious minded investors and is generally viewed with a positive mind.
Guest of Honour, ladies and gentlemen, this brings me to my second point What should be done differently for Ombudsman Institutions to influence change?
As highlighted above, Offices of the Ombudsman have an important role to play in protecting the public especially the vulnerable from injustices. The space and scope of work for the Ombudsman institutions is very wide but challenges come in due to lack of strategic focus in some respects and the lack of technical and financial support from the Government and cooperating partners. First and foremost, the legal frameworks that established your institutions should be strengthened so that they properly act as guiding tools and that you are insulated from any form of extrinsic pressure to guarantee your operational independence.
Ladies and gentlemen, the role of Government in the proper functioning of Ombudsman Offices cannot be overemphasized. For these institutions to attract well qualified technical people they need proper working environments fully equipped with necessary tools to discharge their duties including conducting investigations on maladministration in the public sector.
I have no doubt that it would be in the interest of your Governments that public sectors function in a transparent, accountable and ethical manner with the ultimate goal of delivering quality services to the citizens. As you may be aware, there is direct correlation between contemporary public sector reform initiatives and capacitating institutions that focus on domestic accountability. The two should always go hand in hand since they complement each other. Therefore, let me take this opportunity to appeal to your Governments and development partners to adequately fund Ombudsman Institutions alongside supporting public sector reform initiatives.
In conclusion, I would like to sincerely thank the Malawi Government, the Head of the office of the Ombudsman here in Malawi for organizing this important regional conference which has drawn experts from different countries to share experiences and lessons learnt over the years.
I would also like to thank the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs for gracing this occasion. Your presence is a clear testimony that the Office of the Ombudsman here in Malawi has the necessary political credit to engage and lobby for reforms and support.
With these few remarks, I would like to wish you all the best as you participate at this important regional conference.
I thank you all for your attention