The Ombudsman institution originated from Sweden in 1713 and following military defeat by Russia, the King of Sweden skipped the country and sought refuge in Turkey. While in exile, the King appointed his representative back home to supervise the conduct of the administration and the judiciary during his absence. That representative was named the Ombudsman.
In 1809, the King was overthrown and a new Constitution was adopted. The Constitution gave the power to appoint the Ombudsman to Parliament and Parliament was to exercise the oversight authority over the use of executive power through the Ombudsman. Despite this changeover, the functions of the Ombudsman remained intact. However, over the years the institution underwent a metamorphosis. According to Reif, the Ombudsman institution evolved over time and changed from being a purely legislative monitor to a public complaints-driven process.
Not only did the institution undergo a noticeable metamorphosis but it also gained popularity. It spread from Sweden into other Scandinavian countries and Europe and from Europe into other continents. It is now well known around the world including the Pacific.
Today, the institution is to be found in many parts of the world boasting democratic and constitutional governance. It has assumed different variants in different countries with regards to title, extent of jurisdiction and constitutional positions within the State.
The Ombudsman institution today, regardless of variational referred to above, charged with the common oversight functions in the areas of the protection, promotion and enforcement of fundamental human rights and freedoms, good governance and the rule of law.
Types of Ombudsman
There are two types of ombudsman institutions as found in different parts of the world. They are determined by the nature and extent of the mandates of the respective offices. There are “classic ombudsman” offices which largely retain the form and role of the original Swedish Ombudsman whose function was mainly to combat maladministration in public sector agencies. There is also what are referred as “hybrid human rights Ombudsman” which combine both the traditional Ombudsman and human rights commission roles.
Today, pure traditional Ombudsman offices are very few because many countries developed and developing, have chosen to give to such ombudsman additional duties such as overseeing freedom of information, privacy and/or whistleblower protection laws etc. On the other hand, human rights ombudsman institutions are hybrid in nature. Some resemble classic Ombudsman and others are more akin to pure human rights commissions.
Pacific Ombudsman Alliance (POA)
This is an alliance of all Ombudsman Institutions in the Pacific that started small and loosely several years back as the Pacific Ombudsman Network. In 2008 we progressed to being POA at the Board Meeting in Brisbane, Australia and have been glowing steadily since. We have also embraced other of our small pacific island countries that have yet to have a clear Ombudsman offices established.
Whatever we are, the POA stands common in preserving the rule of law, good governance and oversight functions in areas of the protection, promotion and enforcement of fundamental human rights and freedoms.
Membership of the POA also fall into the category, referred to earlier. Some of us are pure traditional Ombudsman Offices while others are hybrid in nature. Out of the hybrid there are others who also assume or have been mandated with extra jurisdiction to supervise and enforce certain codes of conduct such as the Leadership Code in Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and SolomonIsland.
Ombudsman Commission of Papua New Guinea
The Ombudsman Commission of Papua New Guinea was envisaged as the institution that would provide a quick, flexible means of redress for aggrieved citizens suffering from administrative injustice. The Ombudsman Commission was seen as the institution that would assist ordinary people throughout the country who felt aggrieved by actions or inactions of the bureaucracy of any institution of government.
The Ombudsman Commission is an independent institution established directly by the Constitution. It forms an integral part of the system of checks and balances that have been out in place by the Constitution to regulate the governance of Papua New Guinea.
In general terms, the Commission has been established to: guard against the abuse of power by those in the public sector; assist those exercising public power to do their jobs efficiently and fairly and impose accountability on those who are exercising public power.
There are two special features of the Ombudsman Commission that set it apart from equivalent institutions in other countries. The Ombudsman Commission performs a range of different functions, which in other countries are dealt with by different institutions.
The Commission’s independence is guaranteed by the Constitution, in a number of different ways. In most other countries, Ombudsman institutions do not have this special status.
Another innovative feature of the way the Ombudsman concept was developed in PNG is the use of a Commission, rather than a single office-holder, to exercise the constitutional powers. In most other countries, the powers of an Ombudsman rest ultimately with a single person.
Appointment of the Members of the Commission
The Members of the Commission are appointed by the Governor-General who acts in accordance with the advice of the Ombudsman Appointments Committee (Constitution, Section 217(2)).
This Committee consists of:
• the Prime Minister as Chairman
• the Chief Justice
• the Leader of the Opposition
• the Chairman of the Permanent Parliamentary Committee on Appointments
• and the Chairman of the Public Services Commission
Composition of the Commission
The Commission is made up of three Members of the Commission, the Chief Ombudsman and two other Ombudsmen.