The annual activity report and audited financial statement of the Ombudsman of The Gambia, on Tuesday has revealed that the institution's decentralization programme across the country has slowed down mainly because of inadequate funding and lack of human resources.
"The mandate of the Ombudsman is an uphill task which requires professionals, lawyers, experts etc. Our main constraints are financial, material and human resources", asserted Alhaji B. Sowe, the Ombudsman.
Mr. Sowe made this revelation in his presentation before the Joint Session of the Public Accounts and Enterprises Committees PAC/PEC of the National Assembly. He revealed that the Office of the Ombudsman currently comprises two main units namely, the investigation Unit which is functional; and the Human Rights Unit, which needs to be rejuvenated. He said they have set up two offices in the provinces which have not been according to plan. He said the existing offices upcountry are grappling with problems mainly lack of offices and quarters of their own.
"The Ombudsman's Office should not be seen to depend on another institution for such a situation can create wrong impression in the minds of the people", he pointed out.
The Ombudsman lamented about the inadequate capacity to send staff on specialized training. He said his office continues to collaborate with the Personnel Management Office (PMO) to benefit from training. He said a number of his staff benefitted from short-term professional development courses.
"There is still need to further build capacity in the area of staff training to Master's level, especially our principal investigators", he disclosed.
Mr. Sowe revealed that a total of 42 complaints were registered in the main office in the year 2011 of which 13 cases were satisfactorily resolved in favour of complainants, nine dismissed, 12 discontinued, two sub judice, and six pending. He said 21 and 10 complaints were also registered in Basse and Mansakonko offices respectively.
"The institutions with the highest number of complaints were the Gambia Prisons Service, Inspector General of Police, and Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education", he added.
However, Mr. Ibrahima Sanyang, the Senior Compliance Officer 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. He said the office has given contracts to suppliers who were not registered with the Authority. He said many of the recommendations made to the Ombudsman were not implemented.
"It seems that the Ombudsman feels reluctant to comply with the GPPA Act", he pointed out.
At this juncture, Hon. Abdoulie Bojang, the Speaker of the National Assembly intervened by asserting that the recommendation of the joint committees was meant for the Ombudsman to immediately comply with the GPPA regulations.
The National Assembly Member for Jarra Central, Hon. Njie Darboe, in his intervention asked the discovery of the external auditors about the payment of allowances for the unofficial travelling of the staff. Hon. Lamin Jadama, NAM for Niamina West asked for clarity on the issue of network problem for the office to obtain invoices from three different airlines companies.
Hon. Lamin K Jammeh, member for Illiasa complained that the audit report is not complete because it left out allowances for overseas trips, per diems, vouchers, seminars and workshops.
"The Ombudsman should take measures in protecting files of cases otherwise institutions would not take them seriously", said Hon. Alagie Sillah, the NAM for Banjul North.
The honourable member for Jarra Central in his second intervention reminded the Ombudsman that he was in the office for more than 5 years. He asked the Ombudsman when his mandate would end.
"I have written to the Office of the President about the expiry of our term in office. The letter was acknowledged but we are waiting for the response", Mr. Sowe replied.
Meanwhile, several observations and recommendations were raised by the members and subject matter specialists before adopting the report.