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Ombudsmen and their utility

December 17, 2012

ACCORDING to reports (Nov 19), the post of Federal Ombudsman has been lying vacant for the last two years despite directives of the Supreme Court a year ago.

During these three months, much has appeared in the press trying to give an impression as if due to this ‘adl-i-Jahangri’ has stopped.

The ombudsmen system in Pakistan has been working for the last 28 years and under new labels, new offices keep coming like banking ombudsman, insurance ombudsman, women ombudsman, and regional offices in the name of public convenience, etc.

But what has this system produced? For example, I brought to the notice of the insurance ombudsman the plight of two illiterate labourers: one of them having returned from what virtually was the deathbed. The SLIC did not give then any response, not to speak of compensating them for their disability under their insurance policies.

The insurance ombudsman told me the State Life and NLIC were not under his jurisdiction. If the country’s biggest insurance company was not under the insurance ombudsman, then what his huge costly office was dealing with?

What has this debt-ridden nation thus got in proportion to the huge annual expense it is bearing to keep this system alive? The system was not established to deliver individual relief to those who cried but for putting the derailed system back on track. But the ombudsman system has failed to deliver.

About three years ago, I submitted a human rights petition that this system may be ‘de-established’. This way colossal money could be saved and diverted to the Human Rights Cell of the Supreme Court where it could be spent much better on issues collectively benefiting the community. The Federal Ombudsman opened its first regional office in Karachi in a residential bungalow in violation of civic rules.

Officials in the Federal Ombudsman, Islamabad, according to reports, say the contact staff hired at ‘high posts’ are working without salaries as their contracts are renewable but only by an appointed ombudsman.

I believe that a fixed period contract automatically stands expired on the last day of its maturity unless renewed. When any contract, in this case an employment contract, gets expired on the last date, the employee named therein does not remain a legal valid employee.

None except the authority competent to approve such a contract or employment — in this case it is none other than the ombudsman himself — has the legal authority to verbally or otherwise direct or allow such a person (now an ex-employee) to continue working, nor has such an employee the right to attend to the work and sit in the office even on a so-called without pay basis.

This is a technique to keep the said ex-employee to be paid through a back-dated contract renewal when a competent authority in future is available. The Supreme Court last year ordered the stopping of extensions and re-employments.

Those whose contracts expired for want of renewals are re-employed in this august office as their function is obedience to law and checking the disobedience to law by others.

In the late 1970s, I was working for a very big autonomous body. The company was running losses and each month the salary was being paid through overdraft. I wished to go abroad but many attempts failed to get my resignation accepted as I was told my services were badly needed for the organisation. I felt myself so important and indispensable.

Finally, I was able to leave the organisation and went abroad. A year or two later, a news item passed through my eyes wherein the company had practically entered the export market and had given a bonus to the staff.

I felt that it was my work that was causing losses to the company and as soon as I quit the job, the company started working all right, paying salaries/bonuses from its own earnings.

Is there any institution, except the Supreme Court, which really follows the procedures and rules in these days of ‘degree is degree’?

JAVED     Karachi