African Ombudsman Summit adopts pioneering declaration on minimum standards for ombudsman institutions
Delegates at the first African Ombudsman Summit, held in Kempton Park, Johannesburg last week, adopted a ground-breaking governance instrument titled the OR Tambo Minimum Standards for Effective Ombudsman Institution and Cooperation.
The historic declaration proposes ten minimum standards that African states ought to comply with when establishing Ombudsman Institutions (or Public Protectors) in the continent.
These include the independence and autonomy of such institutions; the establishment of such institutions that is preferably guaranteed in the constitutions of the individual states; and the security of tenure for heads of such institutions.
The standards also include the mandate, resources, operations, accessibility, conditions of service, impartiality and accountability of such institutions.
This development follows Article 15 of 2011 of the African Union (AU), which deals with the establishment of, support and effectiveness of Ombudsman Institutions and other institutions supporting democracy.
Currently, the characteristics of Ombudsman Institutions across Africa vary from one country to another. In addition, such institutions do not exist in more than a dozen African countries.
On independence and autonomy, the declaration advises that these should be guaranteed by the constitutions of individual states and that the Ombudsman should be exempt from being sued or prosecuted in their personal capacities.
With regard to the security of tenure, the declaration recommends a fixed term that is not subject to removal without a just cause. The process of removal should be fair, transparent and regulated by the constitutions of individual states, preferably involving an independent body. Also, the Ombudsman’s appointment process must be transparent and preferably executed through a competitive process in the legislature.
On the mandate, the declaration emphasizes that focus should be on the investigation and mediation of maladministration complaints, prescribing that the term maladministration should be broadly interpreted.
It advocates for adequate resourcing of such institutions, the pitching of the rank of the Ombudsman at the level of a high court judge, the need for the Ombudsman to be apolitical and accountable to the legislature as well as having the activities of the Ombudsman audited by supreme audit institutions in respective countries.
The declaration further covers cooperation between the African Ombudsman and Mediators Association (AOMA) and the AU Commission on strengthening good governance.
It will be tabled at the AOMA General Assembly –the association’s highest decision making body- to be held in Ethiopia later this year. On approval, the declaration will be presented to the AU for its consideration and possible integration into the AU’s shared values instrument.
Hosted the African Ombudsman Research Centre, the Summit was attended by heads of Ombudsman institutions from 39 countries across the African continent. It sought to explore the contribution that Ombudsman institutions can make to the consolidation of democracy, good governance, peace and stability on the continent.
Apart from heads of Ombudsman institutions, the summit brought under one roof inter-governmental representatives, academics, Non-Government Organisations, political parties and experts in ombudsman practice.
South Africa's Chief Justice, Mogoeng Mogoeng, earlier opened the summit, calling on African governments and the AU to improve efforts to create conditions that were conducive to effective offices of the Ombudsman in the continent.
Meanwhile, the AOMA Executive Committee also me shortly after the summit, resolving, among other things, that its next meeting to be held in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire on 11-12 April 2014 would include all leaders involved in peacekeeping activities in the continent to share insights and strategies aimed at enhancing peace efforts, integrating issues of good governance.
AOMA President and Executive Secretary, Dr. Paulo Tjipiliĉa (Angolan Ombudsman) and Adv. Thuli Madonsela (Public Protector of South Africa) respectively wish to thank all participants and the South African government, in particular, for facilitating and funding the summit.
Issued by the African Ombudsman and Mediators Association (AOMA). For more information, contact:
Public Protector South Africa (AOMA Secretariat)
012 366 7006
079 507 0399