Networking of OIC Ombudsmen 

Networking OIC OmbudsmanBy S. M. Hali

An ombudsman or public advocate is usually appointed by the government or by the parliament to represent the interests of the public to investigate and address complaints of maladministration or violation of their rights. The Institution of Ombudsman has its origin in Islamic history. The Ombudsman today is the Swedish equivalent toDiwan-al-Mazalim which appears to go back to the second Caliph Omar (RA) and the concept of Qadi-al-Qadat. During his exile, the Swedish King Charles XII was enamored of the Office as it existed in Islamic World and introduced it in Sweden in 1809 as a Parliamentary Ombudsman for oversight of the work done by civil servants and to investigate cases involving maladministration.

This modern variant of the Islamic era Mohtasib has since been adopted by 144 sovereign States. The OIC includes 57 member States and of these 29 have Ombudsmen based on the Swedish model that are recognized by the International Ombudsman Institute (IOI).

In Pakistan, Wafaqi Mohtasib’s Office (Federal Ombudsman) was created on the 24th of January 1983 with the jurisdiction over all functionaries of Federal Government departments except the judiciary and the armed forces. This is a constitutional post and the Ombudsman has a fixed four year term. Each province in Pakistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir has its own Ombudsman modeled on the Federal Ombudsman. Since 2000, some single mandate Federal Ombudsmen have also been appointed who investigate maladministration issues pertaining to Federal Taxation, Banking and Insurance. Federal and Provincial Ombudsmen to look after workplace harassment of women have also been appointed and an office of Commissioner for Children has been created in the Federal Ombudsman’s office.

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Today there are 12 Ombudsmen in Pakistan including three for Protection against Harassment of Women at the Workplace. In April 2011 the Forum of Pakistan Ombudsman (FPO) was set up comprising all Ombudsmen with the objective of improving coordination among the members and standardizing their practices, as also for raising their capacity and enhancing the quality of their service-delivery. In view of its significance, need is felt to establish Ombudsman Institution in all the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member states and strengthening it through sharing of knowledge, experience and ideas. It was in this context that the proposal to establish networking of Ombudsmen in the OIC member states was put forward at the 39th session of the Council of Foreign Ministers (CFM) of the OIC held in Djibouti on 15-17 November, 2012, the need to develop synergies between OIC countries was emphasized in order to resolve the many problems that they faced. The Foreign Minister of Pakistan offered to host the first meeting of the OIC Ombudsmen in Pakistan, which was accepted by the CFM and the Secretary General of the OIC. Thus the first Conference on the Networking of Ombudsmen (CNO) in OIC countries was held at Islamabad on April 28-29, 2014. The theme of the Conference was: “Strengthening the Institution of Ombudsman in OIC Member States by Sharing Knowledge, Experience and Ideas”. There were also two sub themes, “Embracing Change;” and “Modernization, Cooperation and Synergy”. The event was inaugurated by the President of Pakistan Mr. Mamnoon Hussain and chaired by Mr. Abdul Rauf Chaudhry, Federal Tax Ombudsman who is also the President of the Forum of Pakistan Ombudsman. The concluding ceremony was graced by the speaker of the National Assembly, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq. A galaxy of Ombudsmen from Islamic countries including delegates from member states got together and applied their collective wisdom at the first CNO in OIC Member States to deliberate on the theme and agenda items. The various working groups evolved an Organizational Scheme for the Networking of Ombudsmen in OIC States, comprising the International Best Practices Reform InitiativesSome of the ‘International Best Practices’ recognized as pre-requisites for the effectiveness of Ombudsman Institution in its function of complaint handling and dispensation of justice through a speedy and inexpensive process having maximum outreach are: Mutual appreciation of the roles and objectives of the Agency and Ombudsman Institution at all levels; readiness to understand and comply with the legal provisions, policies, rules and procedures down the line; conducive environment for simultaneous respect for public interest and protection of individual’s rights; political will to empower the Institution through appropriate legislation and appropriation of adequate resources; research orientation for improved efficiency, capacity building and greater social impact through better governance/refined (tax) administration; embracing digital and such other SMART technologies for quicker and more effective handling of complaints, instant consultation, data storage, analysis of complaints information, prompt reporting and sharing of valuable experience and knowledge.

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To achieve these, the principles of Fairness, Accessibility, Responsiveness, Efficiency, Conduct and Competence have been applied with special emphasis on Processes and Analysis using modern technology for generating regular reports, evaluating quantitative and qualitative performance of the system and focusing on measures for systemic improvements.

The hallmark of the program exercise was disseminating the sublime precepts of Islam while emphasizing the various characteristics and humanism of the Islamic civilization with particular emphasis on good governance and rule of law in the OIC members and adopting appropriate recommendations and decisions on such issues.

At the historical maiden CNO in OIC member states, 23 of the 29 countries having Ombudsman offices participated in the conference. A total of 48 delegates participated in the event, making it a successful event with their wholehearted application. Through the landmark Islamabad Declaration, adopted unanimously by the historic conference, an association of the Ombudsmen of OIC countries was established. A Steering Committee comprising members from Guinea, Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Morocco, Niger, Pakistan, Sudan and Turkey met under the chairmanship of Mr. Abdul Rauf Chaudhry, FTO and the President of the FPO to take necessary measures for its functioning and of the Secretariat. The Steering Committee will draft the constitution, by-laws, rules and procedures to govern the business of the association and finalize its report within one year of this conference session. Pakistan and its institution of Ombudsmen deserve appreciation for hosting such a successful event and adding to the prestige of the nation.