The Ombudsman of The Gambia says that inadequate funding has slowed down the decentralisation programme of the Office of the Ombudsman.
Alhagie B. Sowe made this revelation Tuesday while presenting the institution's Annual Activity Report and Audited Financial Statement for the year ended 31st December 2011 before the Joint Session of the Public Accounts and Public Enterprise Committee (PAC/PEC) of the National Assembly at the National Assembly Chambers in Banjul. He told the Committee that lack of finance is the main challenge confronting his office, adding that though they have set up two offices in the provinces, it has not been according to plan.
His words: "Even the existing Ombudsman offices up country are grappling with problems; mainly lack of offices and quarters of our own. The Ombudsman Office should not be seen to depend on another institution for anything, as such a situation can create wrong impression in the minds of the people."
Sowe further stated that inadequate funding is also responsible for the slow pace of expansion of the Office. He revealed that the Office of the Ombudsman currently comprise of two main units, namely, the investigation Unit which is functional; and the Human Rights Unit, which needs to be rejuvenated.
He added: "In the area of training the office continues to collaborate with the Personnel Management Office to benefit from training. However, there is still need to further build capacity in the area of staff training to Master's level, especially our principal investigators."
Sowe also lamented the fact that his office has inadequate capacity to send staff on specialised training. He however, said a number of staff benefited from short-term professional development courses, which has impacted on their productivity level and output. He expressed gratitude for the support given to the Office of the Ombudsman by the government of The Gambia over the past years, as it seeks to promote culture of respect for the rights and obligations of the citizenry. Sowe also revealed that the financial allocation for the office was D9, 529, 593.
He said a total of 42 complaints were registered in the main office in 2011 of which 13 cases were satisfactorily resolved in favour of complainants, nine dismissed, 12 discontinued, two sub judice, and six pending. He added that 21 complaints and ten complaints were also registered in Basse Office and Mansakonko Office respectively.
Sowe told the Committee that the institutions with the highest number of complaints were the Gambia Prisons Service, Inspector General of Police, and Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education.
"The office embarked on a series of sensitisation activities across the country. We also held community radio programmes to inform the people about the new Ombudsman Office in their region and encourage them to make the best use of the services," Sowe said, adding that despite the challenges encountered, the office has registered numerous successes during the year under review. He then pledged his office's commitment to deliver effective and efficient services in carrying out its role and functions.
The aims and objectives of the Office of the Ombudsman among other things is to; subject government's use of power to close scrutiny and so help create an environment within the civil sector in which public officers, irrespective of their hierarchy, would refrain from unjust procedures; To dispense administrative justice through protocols that evolve to ensure fair, reasonable, expeditious administration of Public Sector by using the reactive model, that is wait for complaints and act on them; and the proactive model, that is, seek out matters of concern and initiate investigations; to be accessible and responsive to the interest and complaints of all persons particularly those who are vulnerable to unfairness such as the poor, the physically handicapped, the incarcerated, young, old, and women; and to be seen to be transparent and, where necessary, make public the findings and recommendations of investigations.
Ibrahima Sanyang, senior compliance office at the Gambia Public Procurement Authority (GPPA), said the Office of the Ombudsman was found to be non-compliant with the Public Procurement Act and Regulations during the year under review.
Members and subject matter specialists then raised questions, observations, recommendations, and concerns, which were responded to by officials of the Office of Ombudsman before adopting the report.