Ombudsman and Public Protector not about embarrassing government

WINDHOEK: The role of the Ombudsman in Namibia and the Public Protector in South Africa is about tidying up Governments’ processes and not about exposing, embarrassing, or making governments look bad.

Ombudsman Advocate John Walters and South African Public Protector, Advocate Thulisile Madonsela both agreed on their roles during a media briefing on Friday. Madonsela is in Namibia on a three-day visit.

Walters said the Ombudsman of Namibia and the Public Protector of South Africa are similar, in that they are single institutions with multiple mandates.

“Central to our role is the protection of fundamental rights of citizens, such as the right to good administration; the right to complain; and the right of ready access to an Ombudsman. Our task is not always easy, but it is absolute necessary,” he said.

Madonsela said although she and Walters go under the universal title of Ombudsman, both are multi-mandate institutions whose mandate includes fostering integrity and accountability in the public sector, and helping the people in the exercise of state power and control over public resources. Her duties amongst others also include teaching government how to treat people.

“We correct the problem at hand and fix the system so that someone else does not suffer. We do not implement rules but we remind government about existing laws,” she noted.

Speaking about human rights in Namibia and South Africa, both Walters and Madonsela noted that dealing with such issues is a challenge not just for Africa, but for the rest of the world as well. Walters said the protection of human rights is a continuous process and suggested that it should be part of Namibian schools’ curriculum.

He went on to say there is a great need for social economic rights in the country, raising the concern that Namibia cannot proudly talk about 25 years of peace and stability while violence against women and children is the order of the day.

Madonsela expressed concern about the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa, describing the situation as “painful” because foreigners fled for safety after at least seven people died, and shops were looted and torched in attacks that started last month.

On access to information and media freedom, Madonsela indicated that the role of the media is of utmost importance to her institution. Walters expressed the same sentiments, noting that certain mechanisms should first be put in place to have proper access to information from government institutions and agencies.

Meanwhile, both Walters and Madonsela called for a shift in focus by accounting officers and public officials, towards placing the citizen at the centre of their activities.

Both added that citizens come first.

In the near future, both offices will have a broader discussion with other stakeholders to add the wisdom of their institutions, and national human rights institutions in finding solutions for the many crises facing the African continent, according to Walters.

Madonsela was appointed Public Protector by President Jacob Zuma in 2009. Her most high-profile work to date is an investigation into the South African President’s alleged use of taxpayers’ money to purchase home improvements to his personal residence at Nkandla.

In a hard-hitting report released in March 2014, Madonsela recommended that Zuma apologize and pay back the money spent on refurbishments not related to security.