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Ombudsman’s office a shambles

Gift Phiri

THE Ombudsman’s office is a shambles due to lack of personnel, gross under-funding and alleged mismanagement.

The office

is operating with only two law officers instead of the desired 10, a situation that has led to a huge backlog of cases at a time human rights abuses are increasing in the country.

The office was established by Act of Parliament in 1982 and is mandated to investigate cases of administrative malpractice and alleged contravention of the Declaration of Rights by members of the defence forces, police, government departments and the prison service.

While it does not have powers to enforce its findings, it can make recommendations to various arms of government.

The office currently has a backlog of 1 500 cases which it is battling to clear. The Ombudsman, Bridget Chanetsa, this week admitted that her office was facing serious problems.

“We have a backlog because we have low manpower,” Chanetsa said. “We have however obtained authority from the Public Service Commission to engage eight more law officers after February next year and we believe this will greatly improve the performance of the office.”

The Ombudsman’s office is funded through the Ministry of Justice and the department got a paltry $120 million in this year’s budget. Of that amount, $50 million is a human rights vote.

“We are not the only government department that is not adequately funded,” Chanetsa said. “We get our budget every year.”

The office has been accused of taking too long to investigate case. Despite poor funding the Ombudsman office’s performance has been widely described as poor and in some instances partisan. Chanetsa is married to former Mashonaland West governor Peter Chanetsa.

Sources told the Zimbabwe Independent that there was a deliberate effort to avoid confrontation with any of the government departments cited in public complaints. Chanetsa however dismissed the allegation saying she was a professional.

“My private life has nothing to do with my work,” Chanetsa said. “I am a professional person and being married to a politician does not mean anything. We are non-political. We have received cases from government officials and MDC officials and we have investigated them.”

Last month a stinging African Commission on Human and People’s Rights report on Zimbabwe criticised the Ombudsman’s office whose mandate is human rights protection and promotion.

“It was evident to the mission that the office was inadequately provided for such a task and that the prevailing mindset, especially of the Ombudsman herself, was not one which engendered the confidence of the public,” the report said.

There had been complaints that she failed to follow up cases, it said.

“That did not surprise the mission seeing that in her press statement following our visit, and without undertaking any investigations into allegations levelled against them, the Ombudsman was defensive of allegations against the youth militia. The office needed to be independent and to earn public trust,” it said.

The office hit the headlines two years ago after producing an annual report that was five years late.

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