FIRST OMBUDSMAN CHAIR EXITS EARLY WITH ‘99%’ SUCCESS
“I feel I have covered everything I had set out to to achieve. I am unlikely to add further value by staying,” says Otiende Amollo, who leaves office at the end of this month after a five-year
At the height of the clamour to have the embattled IEBC commissioners leave office over integrity concerns, only one man in government had the audacity to tell the Isaack Hassan-led team to leave to redeem the electoral agency’s image and forestall a constitutional crisis.
That man, Otiende Amollo, has now quit as chair of Commission on Administrative Justice, commonly known as the office of the Ombudsman, five years into a six-year tenure that began in November 2011. The office handles complaints against public officers and institutions, including service failure, delays, inaction, inefficiency, discourtesy and unresponsiveness.
“I feel I have covered everything I had set out to to achieve when I took office as the first Ombudsman chair,” Otiende said. “I am unlikely to add further value by staying. It is opportune for me to leave and let others bring in new skills and lift the office higher.”
By opting out of his tenure a year in advance, Otiende follows in the footsteps of former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, who resigned on June 16. While IEBC commissioners stuck to their guns until they got a negotiated exit that includes a heavy pay package, Otiende will leave office without any benefits, despite having served the public diligently with no scandals.
Otiende said he will leave at the end of this month as promised in July, and that he has already notified the President. “It is not always easy for people, especially senior public officers, to leave office in this country,” he said. “But it all depends on why one took office in the first place. There are those who join to serve and those who join to gain. If you joined to gain, you will never want to leave. Even if there are efforts to get you out, you will go kicking. But if you joined to serve, you can freely leave at any time. In my opinion, I have done the service.”
Looking back, Otiende said his friends, peers in the legal profession and family had discouraged him from taking up the job because, besides reduced earnings, it was a journey through an untrodden path.
“From the onset, I believed in the office. Driven by desire to serve my fellow countrymen, I took up the challenge to set up the office from scratch. Today, I can say we’ve implemented 99 per cent of the set goals,” he said.
The office was meant to be based at Deputy President William Ruto’s Harambee House Annex office. However, Otiende rejected this, as they had set-out to establish an independent, objective, full-fledged Ombudsman office, free from control by the executive and other government officials.
“This is why we chose West End Towers, Waiyaki Way, as the headquarters,” he said. “It is easily accessible by the public and away from many other government offices to make complainants free to visit us without fear of being monitored.”
Other than the headquarters, the office is present in five counties and 12 Huduma Centres and has more than 100 staff.
“The one per cent of missed targets includes not managing to devolve services to every county,” Otiende said. He said during his tenure, they have reached out to the public through skits, drama, media advertisement, radio and TV talkshows, schools, universities and public forums. They have educated the public on their mandates and how citizens can lodge complaints.
Besides the mandate on maladministration, the commission deals with administrative injustices, alternative dispute resolution, promotion of special rights and constitutionalism, performance contracting, capacity building, misconduct and integrity issues.
It also provides, either publicly or confidentially, advisory opinions or proposals on improvement of public administration, and makes recommendations on legal, policy or administrative measures to address specific concerns.
Through establishing an Om- budsman committee in settlements, toll-free call line and SMS platforms, Otiende said they have made the office more accessible, as manifested by the increased number of complaints.
“We have moved the number of complaints we receive from 1,000 per year since we set up in November 2011 to 100,017 last year. This represent a 1,000 per cent gross increase,” he said. Of these, Otiende said 100,012 were resolved, representing 86 per cent resolution rate, up from 26 per cent recorded at the inception year.
“This is the highest rates of complaints filed and resolved in any Ombudsman office in Africa, despite this office being in place for less than five years. Tanzania’s has been around for 50 years and Nigeria 41 years,” he said.
The commission issued more than 50 advisories as a diversified mode of dealing with complaints, beyond traditional letters to government and officers whom the public has raised concerns about. Otiende said the advisories have been sent to the President, Parliament and Cabinet Secretaries who have erred or acted contrary to the constitution.
Through the Alternative Dispute Resolution manual, Otiende said they have arbitrated and mediated more than 40 disputes, including between governors and senators. They have also intervened in more than 60 cases as an amicus curiae in five years.
After inquiries, the commission has also made thousands of determinations that are binding on the public officers concerned and obligates them to implement the decisions within a given time-frame, he said.
They commission has also carried out investigations on maladministration and administrative injustices and done more than 60 systematic investigation reports in instances where maladministration is rampant.
Other achievements include pioneering the Huduma Ombudsman award, which identifies outstanding public officers, awards them at national functions, secures their promotion and ensures they are given head of state commendations. Otiende said the initiative is being replicated not only within the public service but by many countries as well.
“While our work is to condemn officers who misbehave, we have made sure that there is a scheme to commend and applaud those hardworking, selfless workers. We also have more than 20,000 officers on good servant-hood, and have service charters in every government agency and foreign mission to enlighten workers on what is expected of them,” he said,
”MOST PEOPLE WHO SHOW UP AT THEIR OFFICES TO COMPLAIN ARE THOSE WHO CAN’T BRIBE OR DON’T KNOW ‘INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE’ IN HIGH OFFICES TO INTERVENE ON THEIR BEHALF.”
‘IMPUNITY, NOT CORRUPTION, IS THE MAIN PROBLEM AFFECTING THE COUNTRY. IF WE END IT, WE WON’T HAVE GRAFT OR THOSE UNFIT FOR OFFICE STILL SITTING IN THOSE OFFICES.’ “WE HAVE ACHIEVED THE HIGHEST RATE (86%) OF COMPLAINTS FILED AND RESOLVED IN ANY OMBUDSMAN OFFICE IN AFRICA, DESPITE BEING IN PLACE FOR LESS THAN FIVE YEARS,” HE SAID.
adding that we are a country that seems to reward those who do wrong.
Otiende said they had also set out to have a foothold in the international scene. The efforts paid out with his recognition and subsequent election in 2014 as secretary general for the African Ombudsman and Mediators Association, whose secretariat was moved to Nairobi.
“We secured the access to information mandate, and this is the most gratifying achievement because it is something that, for more than 40 years at ICJ and Committee of Experts, I and others have been fighting for, and finally it has landed,” he said.
Otiende urged his successor to build on the ground he has achieved and take the commission further.
He said his highest moment at the helm was when, after just three weeks in office, his efforts on the African scene were applauded by the President. However, he laments failure to appreciate the work of the commission.
“We attend to citizens just like a hospital causality, but we receive little funding. For instance, we had a Sh1.3 billion budget but we only received Sh460 million, the kind of budget crafty officials irregularly withdraw in a single day for just one project. This demonstrates lack of prioritisation of governance matters,” he said.
The outgoing Ombudsman said most people who show up at their offices to complain are those who can’t bribe or don’t know ‘influential people’ in high offices to intervene on their behalf.
Unlike other commissions that cite lack of powers among problems hindering their operations, Otiende said they don’t need more authority. What they need is just recognition and appreciation from the judiciary and other government agencies on their complementary role in helping citizens access justice and making decisions that bind even to the President.
Otiende said resistance because of widespread impunity is a big impediment to his work at the commission.
“Impunity resists accountability. People say corruption is the main problem affecting the country. I say it’s not but rather impunity. If we end impunity we won’t have graft or maladministration, nor abuse of office or those unfit to hold public office still sitting in those offices,” he said. “People do the wrong things not because they don’t know but because they are safe in the knowledge that nothing will be done.”
Otiende called for a shift in budgeting processing, saying even though the country’s budget is done by sectors, there is no governance sector, making it difficult to carry out proper oversight to ensure all sectors funded by the National Treasury put that money to the right use.
“The procurement regime is completely warped. It focuses on processes rather than value for money,” he said. “It holds that it is okay to buy something whose market value is Sh3 at Sh9, provided you can show the processes were followed, and that is outrageous.
It leaves a loophole for corruption in terms of implementation of 30 per cent opportunities for women, youths and persons with disability because they are not subjected to competitive process, exposing the funds to abuse by relatives, children and friends of procurement entities.”
Otiende said he has been missed at his law firm, and that he will return to it from December. The outgoing Ombudsman said serving the commission has been gratifying and that the Ombudsman work has given him a different kind of practice of the law that will be handy for the firm. It has given him a good understanding of how government works, as well as skills on mediation that he never had.
“Many law firms suffer by seeing only courts as the organ that can remedy the complaints by their clients, whereas there are many other entities that can remedy their clients’ complaints before going to court, including commissions and other agencies. Therefore, working here has presented a much clearer picture more than other practitioners of law have,” he said.
IEBC chair Isaack Hassan with CEO Ezra Chiloba confer when the commissioners appeared before the IEBC Select Committee of Parliament. Right, outgoing chair of the Commission on Administrative Justice, Otiende Amollo.
Otiende Amollo during the launch of the audit report on the Kreigler report