The term ‘Ombudsman’ is of Swedish origin and in its ordinary dictionary meaning denotes “an official appointed to investigate complaints against the public authorities, government departments or the people who work for them”. However, every functionary who investigates complaint is not regarded as an ‘Ombudsman’ in the true sense of the word as understood in the modern world. There are certain conceptual and operational features which constitute the core of this institution and distinguish it from other complaints handling organizations. According to Lerry Hills It is required to be “legally established; functionally autonomous; external to administration; operationally independent of both the legislature and executive; non partisan; freely accessible and visible.”
It is a quasi judicial forum which neither competes with courts nor it is an appellate forum. It is an entity to look into the working of public administration.
The institution of Ombudsman originated in Sweden about 200 years ago as a parliamentary supervisory body for the redressal of individual grievances against public administration. The concept gradually became popular in a number of countries from 1960 onward. In Pakistan, the Office of Ombudsman was first set up at the federal level in 1983. The Office of Ombudsman Punjab was established on 30th September 1996 through an Ordinance and finally the Punjab Office of The Ombudsman Act 1997 was promulgated with the prime objective to provide protection for the rights of the people to ensure adherence to the rule of law, to suppress corrupt practices, to diagnose, redress and rectify any injustice done to a person from maladministration.
The Punjab Office of Ombudsman Act, 1997 defines maladministration as under:
i) A decision, process, recommendation, act or omission or commission which:-
a) Is contrary to law, rules or regulations or a departure from established practice
or procedure, unless it is bonafide and for valid reasons; or
b) Is perverse, arbitrary or unreasonable, unjust biased, oppressive, or discriminatory; or
c) Is based on irrelevant grounds; or
d) Involves the exercise of power or the failure or refusal to do so, for corrupt or
improper motives, such as, bribery, jobbery, favourtism, nepotism and administrative excesses; and
ii) Neglect, inattention, delay, incompetence, inefficiency and ineptitude, in the administration or discharge of duties and responsibilities.
The institution is simple in procedure, easily accessible, and inexpensive. The day to day working of the office as such does not invoke orthodox procedural and legal formalities. A complainant may file his complaint either by post, E-mail or in person according to his/her convenience. The format of the complaint is not prescribed. The complaint may be submitted on a simple plain paper along with a copy of identity card and an affidavit. No stamp is required to be affixed on the affidavit. There is no court fee, likewise the appearance of counsels is also not required. The complainant has, however, the right to be represented.
The complaint is normally registered on the day of its receipt. Registration is not refused to incomplete complaints, rather the complainants are advised to arrange the requisite documents. In case of any difficulty the complainants have free access to the Ombudsman and the Investigating Officers etc. The assistance of a petition writer has also been made available to the illiterate complainants. There is a separate counter manned by a whole time official to personally assist any complainant in respect of matters pertaining to this office.
On receipt of the report from the concerned department, a copy is sent to the complainant for rejoinder. Personal attendance of the complainant is not required on each day of proceedings. An updated information regarding status of proceedings is also available on our website. The complainant is required to attend the office only to resolve the problem in presence of the representative of the department. Normally the complaints are decided within three months or even earlier except in certain complicated cases.
We prefer to attempt to provide informal mediation services wherever such an approach is productive. This approach not only tends to result in greater satisfaction among all the parties ‘but frequently provides a more rapid resolution than a full investigation oriented to a finding of right or wrong.’ Any person aggrieved by the decision of the Ombudsman may file a representation to the Governor.
The law empowers the Ombudsman Punjab to entertain complaints against any department, commission or office of the Provincial Government or a statutory corporation or other institution established or controlled by the Provincial Government but does not include the High Court and the Courts working under supervision of High Court and Provincial Assembly and its Secretariat.
Under section 9(1) of the Act the Ombudsman on a complaint of any aggrieved person, on a reference by the Government or the Provincial Assembly or on a motion of Supreme Court or the High Court or on his own motion (Suo Motu) can undertake any investigation into any allegation of ‘maladministration’ on the part of any agency or its officers or employees.
The Ombudsman has no jurisdiction, however, to investigate or enquire into matters which (a) are subjudice before a court of competent jurisdiction (b) relate to the external relations of Pakistan or connected with defense of Pakistan or Military, Naval and Air Forces of Pakistan, or the matters covered by the laws relating to those forces. The Ombudsman also cannot entertain for investigation any complaint by or on behalf of public servant or functionary concerning any matter relating to the agency in which the public servant has been or is working in respect of any personal grievance or relating to his service therein.
Ombudsman has the same powers as are vested in aCivil Courtunder the code of civil procedure for summoning and enforcing the attendance of any person; compelling the production of documents; receiving evidence on affidavits and issuing commission for examination of witnesses. The Ombudsman is vested with the powers to enter and search any premises and inspect any article, books of account and other documents; impound and seal such article. The Ombudsman has the same powers, mutatis mutandis, as the High Court has to punish any person for its contempt.
Submission of the Annual Report by the Ombudsman Punjab is a statutory requirement under section 28(1) of the Punjab Office of Ombudsman Act 1997. The report is to be submitted to the Governor within three months of the conclusion of the calendar year to which the report pertains.
Since its establishment the following served as provincial Ombudsman Punjab:
Mr. Justice (Retd.) Munir Ahmad Khan 22.10.1996 to 28.12.1996
Mr. Justice (Retd.) Manzoor Hussain Sial 26.01.1997 to 25.01.2000
Mr. Justice (Retd.) Sajjad Ahmad Sipra 12.02.2000 to 11.02.2004
Mr. Abdur Rashid Khan 17.05.2004 to 16.05.2008
Mr. Khalid Mahmood 08.12.2008 to 07.12.2012
Mr. Javed Mahmood 13.03.2013 to 31.05.2016
Mr. Najam Saeed Since 21.07.2016