Mai Chen on Ombudsmen

An interesting summary of a (55 page) paper by on the Ombudsmen legislation.

It is almost 50 years since New Zealand introduced a constitutional watchdog to provide citizens with redress for grievances against government departments and public organisations, as well as to improve standards of administration in government.

The ’s role has evolved since that time alongside the expanding influence of government in more and more aspects of our lives, under the Ombudsmen Act, the Official Information Act, the Local Government Official Information and Meeting Act, the Crimes of Torture Act and the Protected Disclosures Act.

Ombudsmen matter because they can deal more effectively and more quickly than courts in some cases, with complaints about behaviour by departments and organisations that appear to be contrary to law, to be based on a mistake of fact, and to be unreasonable, unjust, oppressive, or improperly discriminatory.

They are a very important part of our protections, which we often take for granted.

Some recommendations:

Ensure greater independence through a single fixed term appointment for ombudsmen, change the ability of the prime minister to refer matters (which may be politically controversial) to ombudsmen by requiring a resolution of Parliament (rather than from the prime minister alone), and an ability to keep under review and to report to relevant ministers and to Parliament on any proposed legislation that has implications for coverage by the ombudsmen and official information acts.

I agree on the single fixed term for Ombudsmen, just like the Auditor-General has.

Not sure if there is a problem with the PM being able to refer things by themselves, but agree on the enhanced ability to review and report.

Create a presumption that ombudsmen have jurisdiction over all departments and organisations that exercise public power and use taxpayers’ money, unless bodies are specifically excluded.

Yes.

Provide more powers to the ombudsmen, including binding powers against unreasonable delay by prescribed tribunals.

Sounds good.

Impose greater fines for actions which obstruct the ombudsmen from carrying out their functions and constitutional role.

Would have been useful against the Immigration Service!

It would be good to see the Government look at some changes to strengthen the role of the Ombudsmen.

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