What is an Ombudsman?


Excerpt from the International Ombudsman Institute, Conducting Effective Investigations Workshop, Train-the-Trainer Manual, October 2002

Generally speaking, an Ombudsman is an independent official appointed to receive, investigate and resolve complaints from affected persons about government administration. An Ombudsman’s jurisdiction may be very general extending to all areas of government service and all administrative conduct or it may be specialised; for instance, it may be restricted to consideration of human rights or language issues or to the provision of services by a particular government ministry. An Ombudsman is an impartial investigator with the power to recommend solutions. The Ombudsman’s office is generally a place of last resort that investigates complaints after other statutory rights of recourse have been pursued.

Since the 1980’s there has been a significant expansion in the number of Ombudsman offices globally. There are currently governmental Ombudsman offices in over 100 countries. The number of Ombudsman offices continues to grow as governments recognise the value and importance of this form of oversight of government administration for the purpose of serving the public and improving public service.

The essential and universally recognised features of ombudsmanship include:

  • independence
  • flexibility
  • accessibility
  • credibility

The Ombudsman’s process may be confidential and protected by provisions shielding the Ombudsman and his or her staff and information collected or produced by them from civil action or disclosure orders. However, Ombudsman have the ability to varying degrees to bring matters to the attention of the public. Many Ombudsman have the authority to issue reports publicly and to forward the reports to the Assembly/Parliament for consideration.

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