Satisfaction with the appointment of an Ombudsman

I would like to express satisfaction and extend my congratulations on the appointment of retired Judge Winston Moore as Ombudsman. To President Ramotar I say well done on this first step to establishing and/or restoring non-functioning constitutional offices, and to Mr Moore congratulations. It must have taken courage by the President to make the announcement to fill an office that his predecessor left vacant for more than a full presidential term.

Guyana has the distinction of being the first country in the Commonwealth Caribbean and Western hemisphere and second only to New Zealand among Common-wealth countries to have a constitutionally entrenched Ombudsman system. In Guyana, the Office of Ombudsman is a requirement of the constitution and is buttressed by a separate statute.

The Office of Ombudsman was created in the 1966 Independence Constitution and its powers have remained largely unchanged since then: to investigate any administrative action taken by any government department or other authority or by the President, ministers, officers or members of any government department or other authority. The 1980 Constitution brought actions by the President within the scope of the Ombudsman’s powers.

Given the tremendous backlog of matters which would fall to be investigated and the loss of institutional capacity to deal with them, Mr Moore has a herculean task on his hands. He will need not only the necessary resources but also the cooperation of the public and of the government agencies against which complaints are lodged.

In a Foreword to the publication of the Role of the Ombudsman in Guyana by the previous Ombuds-man, Mr S Y Mohamed, former Chancellor of the Judiciary Keith Massiah noted that Mr Mohamed had “exposed the frustrations of the Office, the scant regard paid to his recommendations by public officials, seeming lack of parliamentary interest in his work and the discourtesy of some public officers…”

At the swearing-in of Mr Moore, President Ramotar said that “constitutionally the country needs not only an Ombudsman but one that is effective.” The President must now ensure that the resources to make the office effective are provided and that the government establishes a strict protocol requiring public officers to cooperate with the Ombudsman and his staff.