Public Protector lauds appointment of Military Ombud

Public Protector Adv Thuli Madonsela has congratulated the Department of Defence and Military Veterans on the establishment of South Africa’s first Military Ombud, a body set up to investigate complaints raised within the department.
Speaking at the swearing-in ceremony of Lieutenant-General Themba Mathanzima in Pretoria on Monday, the Public Protector commended the speed at which the legislation regulating the existence of the Ombud and the establishment of the office had been done.
She also appreciated the decision to hold a swearing-in ceremony as that would go a long way towards ensuring visibility and ensuring accessibility of the important office.
She said the idea to establish a Military Ombud had partly been triggered by her office after seeing the plight of soldiers, particularly the retired ones and military veterans, who often took their grievances to her office. 
It was clear then, the Public Protector said, that there was a need for a faster mechanism with the necessary expertise to resolve military complaints expeditiously.
“My team and I had a small contribution to the giant step that is being taken today. We approached the Minister in 2010 with this idea and she indicated that she was happy with it but also that it was an idea they had previously mooted and that a lot of work had already been done on it,” she said. 
The Public Protector said she was happy that a lot of comments from her office on the first draft legislation of the Military Ombud were implemented. These include the recommendation that the Ombud be appointed by the President, their rank be equivalent to a Judge, their required qualifications, the name of the office and the need for the office to be financed directly.
“There was a lot of emphasis on independence and impartiality. The final product is excellent, however, there may be a need to tweak it a bit as it looks as if my jurisdiction and possibly that of other Chapter 9 bodies has been ousted,” she said, referring to the fact that the Act refers complainants who are unhappy about the Ombud’s decisions to the high court only.
She, however, indicated that she was happy with the fact that the Act made it clear that a decision of the Ombud had to be taken on review and therefore unilateral refusal to implement was not an option.
On her expectations regarding the work of the Ombud, the Public Protector said it was a good idea to appoint an “insider”, explaining that this could work excellently if Lieutenant-General Mathanzima uses his “insider status” and seniority to leverage respect for the office.
“If he treats the defence family as the mafia, he will be inviting them to disrespect the office. However, I do not expect him to do that because he has a history of integrity,” she said, adding that to be effective the office needed rigour, speed and remedies that will bring complainants as close as possible to where they would have been had the department acted right in the first instance. 
The Public Protector added that she expected Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and the Department to respond swiftly and honestly when the Ombudsman asked questions. She further expected swift implementation of findings and recommendations.
Institutions established under Chapter 9 of the Constitution, the Public Protector said, would still retain their constitutional jurisdiction. She undertook, as Public Protector, to defer all to the Military Ombud on all defence and military veterans’ grievances and conduct reports. 
For her part, the Public Protector would come in as a non-judicial complaints body of last resort, retaining residual jurisdiction. She said these matters would be ironed out at a meeting with Lieutenant-General Mathanzima – to take place as soon as possible to discuss cooperation.
“My team and I are looking forward to cooperative relations. We will have to meet with the Ombudsman as soon as possible to look at, among other things, matters that are currently with me that should be offloaded to him.”
For more information, contact:
Kgalalelo Masibi
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Published Date: 
Monday, May 14, 2012