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

The Star (Kenya) - - Big Read - BY RAMADHAN RA­JAB @Rra­jab

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.

/ FILE

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.

/ FILE

Otiende Amollo dur­ing the launch of the au­dit re­port on the Krei­gler re­port

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