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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 30, No. 2. 1967.

Investigation bodies — Ombudsman held back

Investigation [unclear: bodies]

Ombudsman held back

New Zealand City and County Councils represented at the Municipal Conference in Dunedin last month rejected a proposal that they should come under the Ombudsman's jurisdiction.

The Ombudsman. Sir Guy Powles, said recently he saw no reason why the powers of his office should not be extended to permit the investigation of local bodies.

"If the Government agreed, it would merely require an increase in the size of my staff," he said.

At present the Ombudsman is empowered to investigate the decisions and actions of Government departments and agencies. He has no jurisdiction, however, over the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, the National Airways Corporation, the armed forces, the Crown Law Office, or local and ad hoc bodies.

The office of Ombudsman was established in 1962 to protect the individual citizen from administrative errors and injustices. It was generally conceded that existing; machinery for such protection was cumbersome and Ineffective.

A constituent is free to contact his local Member of Parliament about an administrative abuse, he will in turn contact the appropriate Minister, who will contact the head of his department, who will contact the official [unclear: con-]

[unclear: An] answer will [unclear: re- y] the reverse process.

[unclear: process] usually [unclear: pro-]an evasion rather than [unclear: edy]. An MP's right to on a Minister on the of the House may at [unclear: attention] to an injustice, [unclear: rely] rectifies it.

[unclear: aps] one of the best [unclear: and] least effective [unclear: ds] of pleading open to [unclear: e] citizens is the [unclear: pre- on] of a petition to [unclear: ment].

[unclear: res] show that [unclear: Govern-] gave substantial effect [unclear: ly] six petitions out of [unclear: resented] between 1958 [unclear: 963]—a little over 2 [unclear: per]

Ombudsman [unclear: investi-] [unclear: 1,139] complaints up to [unclear: 1966], recommending [unclear: them] as justified—over [unclear: r] cent. (Many of the [unclear: aints] were outside the [unclear: dsman's] Jurisdiction and [unclear: re] not pursued.)

Ombudsman has [unclear: corn-] access to departmental [unclear: s] except those relating [unclear: ional] security and [unclear: cab-] procedure. He maintains [unclear: al] contacts within [unclear: de-] [unclear: ents] and has power to [unclear: on] and to examine any [unclear: on] oath.

[unclear: e] the Ombudsman has [unclear: ed] his report his [unclear: func-] to recommend a course [unclear: ion], but not to compel. [unclear: ate] appropriate action [unclear: always] followed the [unclear: dsman's] [unclear: recommenda-] If it does not, he is [unclear: ered] to report to [unclear: ment].

[unclear: relative] success of the [unclear: of] Ombudsman is [unclear: evi-] [unclear: rom] the figures quoted, [unclear: terms] of the [unclear: satisfac-] of complaints. Even in cases where a favourable recommendation has not been made, a citizen can at least feel that his grievance has been examined objectively and outside the area of vested interest.

This success augurs for an extension of the Ombudsman's jurisdiction.

His primary function of protecting the citizen from encroaching bureaucracy is as vital at the local authority level as at the departmental level.

Local bodies are bureaucracies in miniature, and affect secrecy as one of the chief means of perpetuating their control.

They tend to believe they alone have the expert knowledge and claim that concealment of proceedings is in the public interest.

Decisions of local bodies are usually more difficult to circumvent than those of larger organisations where approaches can be made to a greater number of people or through a different department.

Members of local authorities have few senior assistants who can be consulted as "built-in" checks, and are very often local businessmen involved in local affairs.

Local authorities also tend to be loyal to their administrative staff, and may support them in an unfair decision.

The Government has promised to consider extending the Ombudsman's powers, but has given no indication when this would be done, nor has it said which bodies would come under any enlarged jurisdiction. The Attorney-General, Mr. Hanan, said ill Invercargill last October the extension would be "to certain classes of local authorities."

The President of the Constitutional Society recently advocated enlargement of the Ombudsman's authority to cover educational and hospital boards which derive all their funds from the Government.

Sir Guy Powles visualises a possible extension to ad hoc bodies with no territorial jurisdiction. He said it was up to local authorities to decide for themselves whether they wished to be investigated.

"It is distinctly a question of local option," he said.

Norman Kingsbury, Registrar of the University of Waikato, called last year for an extension of authority to all forms of local and ad hoc bodies, boards, and even universities. He said the fact that an organisation operated on public funds was sufficient justification to include it within the Ombudsman's scope. It did not matter whether their money was drawn from the Government or from local citizens.

A public report from the Ombudsman should be sufficient incentive for a regional body to correct an error. This would not undermine the principles of local authority.

In the universities. Mr. Kingsbury believes, the Ombudsman should be able to deal with regulation complaints. This means dealing with the university administration. He did not believe the Ombudsman should Investigate academic problems such as examination failures.

Statements from public spokesmen and a substantial number of appeals to the Constitutional Society indicate that some enlargement of the Ombudsman's powers is called for although the extent of this enlargement is arguable.

The words of HWR Wade are relevant to local administration: "In order to carry out so many schemes of social service and control, powerful engines of authority have to be set in motion. To prevent them running amok there must be constant control, both political and legal."