The Malta Independent 25 June 2019, Tuesday

House rendering final safeguard to provide redress against injustice 'ineffective' - Ombudsman

Wednesday, 10 April 2019, 15:39 Last update: about 3 months ago

Parliament not acting on recommendations forwarded to it after inaction by government

Ombudsman Anthony Mifsud has lamented the fact that none of the cases that were sent to the Speaker of the House, after a refusal by the authorities to implement recommendations put forward by his office, have been actively considered by the House.

In his foreword to the Ombudsman’s Case Notes 2018 report, Mifsud says there was “no response whatsoever” to these final opinions.

“One can safely conclude that this statutory procedure provided for in the Ombudsman Act, which was meant to be a final safeguard to provide redress against injustice to aggrieved citizens, is proving to be ineffective. This needs to be remedied,” Mifsud writes.

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In the foreword, the Ombudsman also complains about the fact that the authorities do not always respect the concept of confidentiality, which is an essential factor in the investigations carried out by his office.

These investigations, he says, can only be credible and effective if they are conducted in a thorough, efficient and equitable manner inspired by the three basic virtues of integrity, impartiality and confidentiality.

The Ombudsman says that the principle of confidentiality is of the utmost importance as it is essential to generate trust. “It is essential to generate and promote the conviction that the Ombudsman institution is a valid and trustworthy means to obtain redress against injustice,” he writes.

“Since the setting up of his Office, the Ombudsman has rigorously observed the duty to treat all information relative to investigations he and the Commissioners conduct, confidentially and with the utmost discretion. They consider themselves to be the custodians of the information, data and documents received and jealously conserve them, disclosing only what is strictly necessary for the proper conduct of the investigative process. The principles of privacy and confidentiality are applied not only in respect of complainants but also in respect of the department, public agency or authority being investigated.”

The Ombudsman explained that certain details, like case reference numbers, are omitted from the case notes, and other changes may be done to further protect the identity of the complainant.

This might include the alteration of personal data and other information like the sex of the complainant, the locality and when possible the name of the authority or department involved.

However, the concept of confidentiality has not always been respected by the authorities, Mifsud writes.

“It is regretted that public authorities have not always been appreciative of the importance of the principles of confidentiality and privacy that govern the investigative process of the Ombudsman and his Commissioners. There have been instances recently where personal data and information on the nature of complaints and progress made in the investigation, together with the case number, have been recorded in official publications. Such developments are unwelcome and need to be avoided.”

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