Ombudsmans office short of staff, money

and lacking independence
HARARE - The Office of the Ombudsman is battling to cope with a backlog of 1500 cases and only two law officers instead of 10.

Tasked with investigating cases of administrative malpractice and alleged contravention of the Declaration of Rights by members of the defence forces, police, government departments and the prison service, the office is currently run by Bridget Chanetsa.

Instead of tacking the core problems of critical shortages of personnel, gross under-funding and alleged mismanagement, Justice and Legal Affairs Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, last week tabled a few minor amendments to the Office in the House of Assembly.

These included a change of name to “Public Protector”. The Ombudsmans Office has struggled to discharge its mandate amid critical staffing levels amid reports it is operating with only two law officers instead of the desired 10, a situation that has led to a huge backlog of cases at a time when human rights abuses are increasing.

While it does not have powers to enforce its findings, it can make recommendations to various arms of government. But its performance has been widely described as poor and in some instances partisan. Chanetsa is married to former Mashonaland West governor Peter Chanetsa.

Critics say the Office displays a deliberate effort to avoid confrontation with any of the government departments cited in public complaints. A recent stinging African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) report on Zimbabwe criticised the Ombudsman’s office in particular.

“It was evident to the mission that the office was inadequately provided for such a task and that the prevailing mindset, especially of the Ombudsman herself, was not one which engendered the confidence of the public,” the report said after a fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe.

There had been complaints that she failed to follow up cases. That did not surprise the mission seeing that in her press statement following our visit, and without undertaking any investigations into allegations levelled against them, the Ombudsman was defensive of allegations against the youth militia. The office needed to be independent and to earn public trust,” the ACHPR report says.

Critics say it is clear the amendments to the Ombudsman Act will not result in the required sea change.

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