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”. The institution of Ombudsman has its roots in ancient times. The complaint handling systems resembling the present Institution were functioning as far back as the early days of Islam, and are still functioning in many Muslim countries. However, as an institution, the Ombudsmanship originated in Sweden about 200 years ago as a parliamentary supervisory body.
The institution of Ombudsman is aimed at protecting individual’s right without jeopardizing the efficacy of public policies faced by most of the societies in the contemporary world but the functional competence and the organizational structure of this institution varies from country to country depending on peculiar circumstances of each case. It is legally established, functionally autonomous, external to the administration, operationally independent of both legislature and executive, non-political, sympathetic to citizens, not averse to administration, freely accessible and practically having access to the documents relevant to the impugned executive decision.
The institution has proved to be an invaluable help to the common man as a ‘grievance redressal mechanism’. The concept gradually became popular in a number of countries from 1960 onward. In Pakistan, first it was set up at the Federal level in 1983. Later it was established in Punjab on 30th September, 1996 through an Ordinance. The Ordinance was followed by two other Ordinances and finally the Punjab Office of the Ombudsman Act, 1997 (Act X of 1997) was promulgated.
Ombudsmanship in Punjab
The Office of Ombudsman Punjab has been established 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 through maladministration”. The law empowers the Ombudsman Punjab to entertain complaints against any department, commission or a statutory corporation or other institutions established by the Provincial Government, but does not include the High Court and the courts working under the supervision of High Court and the Provincial Assembly and its secretariat.
Ombudsman has the same powers as are vested in a civil court under 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 or inspect any article, books of account and other documents, impound and seal such articles.