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Commission assails ombudsmen over jail conditions

Updated August 09, 2015

ISLAMABAD: The Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan (LJCP) has criticised offices of the federal and provincial ombudsmen for their failure to exercise their authority to address and rectify systemic failures leading to maladministration in different jails of the country and suffering of prisoners.

The damning observation has come in a report issued by the LJCP which was instructed by the Supreme Court to formulate one during the hearing of a case relating to living conditions of prisoners, particularly the women among them.

In its May 28 order, the court had held that it was not sufficient for offices of the ombudsmen to address only individual complaints. Rather, they should address systemic failures which are the cause of ‘maladministration’ and formulate and enforce standards of ‘good governance’ as envisaged by the law.

The court mandated the LJCP to hold meetings with the federal and provincial ombudsmen and officials of other departments like information commissions and submit the report.

It regretted that the regulatory framework on prison conditions had failed and no official or body appeared to have been effective in regulating the implementation of prison laws and rules to ensure prisoners’ welfare as required by the law.

Citing different reports, the court deplored that as of April this year, the number of prisoners in 88 jails of the country was estimated at over 80,000 against their capacity of 46,705. Of them, 54,412 were men and 1,017 women under-trial prisoners besides 24,107 men convicts and 633 women convicts.

The report of the International Crisis Group for 2011 had also described living conditions in jails as abysmal for both male and female prisoners. This was confirmed by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s State of Human Rights in 2014 which described prison conditions as “dismal” because of chronic issues like overcrowding, lack of proper healthcare system, substandard food, corruption and rampant torture.

In its report, the LJCP has said the federal and provincial legislatures have provided the ombudsmen with significant powers and resources to implement their mandate.

Unfortunately, despite having the mandate and powers, the institution has failed to address and rectify systemic failures that result in maladministra-tion, lack of transparency and bad administration.

The report says the ombudsmen’s offices and information commissions have largely remained reactive, responding to complaints rather than being proactive by setting standards to improve administration and engaging stakeholders through outreach and legal empowerment.

There are no regular institutional and organisational assessment, monitoring and reporting on the state of administration and transparency in the public administration, the report says.

The ombudsmen and information commissions have failed to implement their mandate as evidenced by widespread maladministration across the public sector, particularly the justice sector.

It has suggested a way forward by asking the federal and provincial ombudsmen to form dedicated teams of experts to develop monitoring and evaluation frameworks.

Published in Dawn, August 9th, 2015

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