We must start util­is­ing Om­buds­man of­fice

Business Daily (Kenya) - - EDITORIAL & OPINION - JENNY LUESBY is a jour­nal­ist and en­tre­pre­neur

Some­times, in all the noise, we over­look just how pro­foundly and how ex­ten­sively our 2010 Con­sti­tu­tion has changed lives for the bet­ter, or­di­nary peo­ple’s lives, through wrongs averted, new sys­tems put in place, and new ini­tia­tives taken.

In this, if there is one of­fice we have failed to un­der­stand com­pletely for its power to help in­di­vid­u­als, it is surely the Of­fice of the Om­buds­man. This of­fice, with its rather mod­er­ate bud­get and 40 full-time lawyers, ex­ists to de­fend ci­ti­zen’s rights in their deal­ings with public of­fices, com­plete with the ca­pac­ity to rule and re­solve.

Which makes for some phe­nom­e­nal re­course.

In­deed, the of­fice, also known as the Com­mis­sion on Ad­min­is­tra­tive Jus­tice, claims to set­tle 87 per cent of the claims taken to it, nowa­days in their hun­dreds of thou­sands.

Many of the com­plaints are about slow pass­ports or na­tional IDS, or poor treat­ment by the po­lice. But its remit stretches to ev­ery public in­ter­face, be it at gov­ern­ment or county level and that can be trans­for­ma­tory.

For public mal­ad­min­is­tra­tion or in­jus­tice can re­ally mess with peo­ple’s lives.

In­deed, per­haps the worst case I ever saw was a tiny piece of dis­in­ter­est by the Uni­ver­sity of Nairobi that saw one med­i­cal stu­dent, many years ago now, lose a year of his life on an ad­min­is­tra­tive foul.

A clever stu­dent, as all med­i­cal stu­dents tend to be, he had sailed through his first three years of study. Med­i­cal de­grees then see stu­dents study three sub­jects, each for three months, be­fore they sit their fi­nal ex­ams and get a three­month break. For each three­month spe­cial­ism, they work in the rel­e­vant hos­pi­tal ward.

But as that stu­dent ap­proached his full-year fi­nals, he caught pneu­mo­nia, from a baby he treated in the pae­di­atric ward. The Sun­day be­fore his ex­ams started on the Mon­day, he was him­self ad­mit­ted to hos­pi­tal. He didn’t sit his fi­nals: he was on a drip.

Stu­dents who fail just one exam of the three in the fi­nals get a chance to redo it in the fi­nal quar­ter. In his case, Uni­ver­sity of Nairobi said he could sit all three of the ex­ams he had missed in the year-end re­sits. But at that point he moved into an ad­min­is­tra­tive no-man’s land.

The re­sit rules al­low only one re­sit a year, and re­quire work­ing in the ward again to up the grades. But he was do­ing three ‘re­sits’ of ex­ams he had never failed. He passed the three ex­ams, but two of the sub­jects failed him for not work­ing full-time in those wards. Uni­ver­sity of Nairobi never had to ex­plain how this stu­dent had gained 48 hours (or even 72 hours) in each 24 on be­com­ing an ex­cep­tional three-re­sits stu­dent. The uni­ver­sity sim­ply had no fa­cil­ity for a med­i­cal stu­dent miss­ing the whole set of ex­ams, and pushed him into a dif­fer­ent sys­tem, which then au­to­mat­i­cally failed him for not be­ing in two or more places at once.

The re­sult was he had to sit the en­tire year a sec­ond time – it took him 15 months to move on from that one­week of pneu­mo­nia, and a jour­ney through a burn­ing sense of in­jus­tice. How­ever, the Con­sti­tu­tion now re­quires fair ad­min­is­tra­tive ac­tion as well as an en­ti­tle­ment to writ­ten rea­sons for such ac­tions.

And see­ing that fair­ness ap­plied is what the Om­buds­man does, from five of­fices across the coun­try and 12 in Huduma cen­tres. Any­one can walk in. It costs noth­ing.

The of­fice has the power to ad­ju­di­cate and en­force. In­deed, it has found so many gaps and breaches that it has is­sued more than 50 ad­vi­sories in its first five years, many of them ad­vis­ing public of­fi­cers every­where on fair ad­min­is­tra­tion ver­sus mal­ad­min­is­tra­tion.

It’s an amaz­ing fa­cil­ity. It only rests on all of us to com­plain when public ser­vice falls short of all rea­son: and get bet­ter ser­vice.

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