Wafaqi Mohtasib’s institution: Promoting good governance
THE sanctity and inviolability of human rights is the essential feature of the concept of ombudsmanship and the means to achieving the ultimate goal of good governance. Maladministration and bad governance are two sides of the same coin. Both breed in an environment of favoritism, discrimination, corruption and exploitation where human rights are the first casualty. Maladministration grows in the absence of human rights while the continued violation of human rights further erodes the system of accountability and dispensation of justice. The role of ombudsman institutions, therefore, is fundamental to breaking this vicious circle and establishing the rule of law and good governance in any society.
Pakistan is among the few pioneering countries in South Asia that have successfully introduced the Ombudsman’s institution to ensure dispensation of inexpensive and expeditious administrative justice to promote good governance. It was on 24th January 1983, that the Office of Wafaqi Mohtasib (Ombudsman) was established with the explicit objectives to diagnose, investigate, rectify and redress any injustice done to a person through maladministration by the federal government agencies. In this long journey of four decades, the institution has followed a positive trajectory alongside taking steps to enhance its efficiency and efficacy. It has, over the years, fine tuned its complaints handling mechanism comprising investigation of complaints, appraisal, review and implementation of recommendations of the Wafaqi Mohtasib. It is now fully capable of resolving complaints of maladministration in large numbers, reaching out to the complainants and holding public hearings (Khuli Katcheries) at their door steps, informal resolution of disputes, inspection of various federal government agencies to improve their service delivery and undertaking studies to ascertain the root causes of maladministration and recommending measures to rectify the same.
Today, in addition to the Wafaqi Mohtasib’s Head Office at Islamabad, 17 regional offices and two complaint collection centres at Wana (South Waziristan) and Sadda (District Kurram) are discharging their statutory functions. During the period January to December 2022, incidence of complaints rose from 110,405 to the highest ever number of 164,174 (49% increase) and disposal reached an all-time high of 157,770 as compared to the figure of 106,823 of the year 2021 (47.7% increase). Under the Informal Resolution of Disputes (IRD) project which was launched in April last year, 1114 cases have been resolved while 266 are under process. This Office has completed 28 studies/reports which are at various stages of implementation. These include: Working of Central Directorate of National Savings, Government Procurement System, disbursement of pensions and jail reforms particularly, the living conditions of women and children in jails. The most recent study reports relate to controlling the population growth and addressing the plight of street children in Islamabad Capital Territory.
The Outreach Complaint Resolution (OCR) system, where, the designated officers visit various districts to redress grievances at the doorsteps of the complainants, has been further strengthened by organizing Khuli Katcheries in remote areas where the public avail the opportunity to raise their grievances in the presence of representatives of agencies and get immediate relief. Under the Integrated Complaint Resolution System (ICR), the Wafaqi Mohtasib’s Secretariat (WMS) has developed interface with 181 govt agencies whereby any complaint which remains unresolved with the agency beyond 30 days, is automatically transferred to Federal Ombudsman’s Complaint Management Information System (CMIS) for further processing and disposal.
The online complaints rose from 25,820 in the year 2021 to 51,112 in 2022 showing 97% increase; and the ICR complaints registered enormous increase from 46,829 to 91,496 (95.4% increase) whereas the number of ICR cases transferred to WMS from the interface of other agencies also increased from 16,103 to 18,107 in the same period. This means that the agencies concerned resolved 73,389 complaints, on their own, through their respective complaint management systems which not only reflects efficacy of the ICR system but also an improvement in service delivery of the agencies concerned.
The Grievance Commissioner’s office for Overseas Pakistanis in the WMS offers an institutional framework for addressing individual complaints and systemic issues faced by Overseas Pakistanis. One Window Facilitation Desks (OWFD) established on the direction of Wafaqi Mohtasib at all international airports of the country and appointment of Focal Persons in Pakistan Missions abroad to personally hear and resolve problems faced by the Pakistani Diaspora. It is encouraging to note that as against 58,990 complaints of Overseas Pakistanis resolved in 2021, a total of 137,647 complaints were disposed of in 2022 showing (133% increase). Out of these, 118,290 complaints were resolved/queries answered at OWFDs as against 45,037 in 2021.
The legal framework of the Federal Ombudsman’s institution in Pakistan provides the necessary support in performing its statutory functions in an effective and efficient manner. Wafaqi Mohtasib enjoys the same powers, mutatis mutandis, as the Supreme Court to punish for contempt. Similarly, no court or authority has jurisdiction to question the validity of any action taken under the President’s Order No.1 of 1983 or grant any injunction or stay in relation to any proceedings pending before the Ombudsman. Pakistan has also played a pivotal role in promoting ombudsmanship in Asia and the Muslim world and it hosted the first Asian Ombudsman Conference at Islamabad establishing the Asian Ombudsman Association (AOA) in April 1996. The Wafaqi Mohtasib is the current President of the AOA and its Secretariat is housed in the Wafaqi Mohtasib Secretariat.
The Federal Ombudsman’s institution is fundamentally the poor man’s court. There is no requirement to hire services of an advocate nor the complainants have to face lengthy legal processes as the cases are disposed of within the prescribed limit of sixty days. Over 1.9 million households have so far benefited from its services which offer groundswell of support for its operations. Providing prompt relief to those facing administrative excesses, discrimination, exploitation, negligence and inefficiency at the hands of the government agencies or its employees is central to the concept of Ombudsmanship and the means to achieving the ultimate goal of good governance.
—The writer is DG MediaWafaqi Mohtasib.