What is the ombudsman?An ombudsman is an official, usually appointed by the government orby parliament but with a significant degree of independence, who ischarged with representing the interests of the public by investigatingand addressing complaints of maladministration or violation of rights.In some countries an Inspector General, Citizen Advocate or otherofficial may have duties similar to those of a national ombudsman, andmay also be appointed by the legislature. Below the national level anombudsman may be appointed by a state, local or municipalgovernment, and unofficial ombudsmen may be appointed by, or evenwork for, a corporation such as a utility supplier or a newspaper, for anNGO, or for a professional regulatory body.
What is the ombudsman? Whether appointed by the legislature, the executive, or anorganisation (or, less frequently, elected by the constituencythat he or she serves), the typical duties of an ombudsman areto investigate complaints and attempt to resolve them, usuallythrough recommendations (binding or not) or mediation.Ombudsmen sometimes also aim to identify systemic issuesleading to poor service or breaches of peoples rights. At thenational level, most ombudsmen have a wide mandate to dealwith the entire public sector, and sometimes also elements ofthe private sector (for example, contracted service providers).In some cases, there is a more restricted mandate, forexample with particular sectors of society. More recentdevelopments have included the creation of specialisedChildrens Ombudsman and Information Commissioneragencies.
What is the ombudsman?In some jurisdictions an ombudsman charged with the handling ofconcerns about national government is more formally referred to asthe "Parliamentary Commissioner" (e.g. the United KingdomParliamentary Commissioner for Administration, and the WesternAustralian state Ombudsman). In many countries where theombudsmans remit extends beyond dealing with allegedmaladministration to promoting and protecting human rights, theombudsman is recognised as the national human rights institution.The post of ombudsman had by the end of the 20th century beeninstituted by most governments and by some intergovernmentalorganizations such as the European Union
In PoliticsIn general, an ombudsman is a state official appointed to provide a check on government activity in the interests of the citizen, and to oversee the investigation of complaints of improper government activity against the citizen. If the ombudsman finds a complaint to be substantiated, the problem may get rectified, or an ombudsman report is published making recommendations for change. Further redress depends on the laws of the country concerned, but this typically involves financial compensation. Ombudsmen in most countries do not have the power to initiate legal proceedings or prosecution on the grounds of a complaint. This role is sometimes referred to as a "tribunitian" role, and has been traditionally fulfilled by elected representatives – the term refers to the ancient Roman " tribunes of the plebians" (tribuni plebis), whose role was to intercede in the political process on behalf of common citizens. The major advantage of an ombudsman is that he or she examines complaints from outside the offending state institution, thus avoiding the conflicts of interest inherent in self-policing. However, the ombudsman system relies heavily on the selection of an appropriate individual for the office, and on the cooperation of at least some effective official from within the apparatus of the state.
In organisationMany private companies, universities, non-profit organisations and government agenciesalso have an ombudsman (or an ombuds office) to serve internal employees, andmanagers and/or other constituencies. These ombudsman roles are structured tofunction independently, by reporting to the CEO or board of directors, and according toInternational Ombudsman Association (IOA) Standards of Practice they do not have anyother role in the organisation. Organisational ombudsmen often receive more complaintsthan alternative procedures such as anonymous hot-linesSince the 1960s, the profession has grown in the United States, and Canada, particularlyin corporations, universities and government agencies. The organizational ombudsmanworks as a designated neutral party, one who is high-ranking in an organization, but who isnot part of executive management. Using an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) orappropriate dispute resolution approach, an organisational ombudsman can provideoptions to whistleblowers or employees and managers with ethical concerns; providecoaching, shuttle diplomacy, generic solutions (meaning a solution which protects theidentity of one individual by applying to a class of people, rather than just for the oneindividual) and mediation for conflicts; track problem areas; and make recommendationsfor changes to policies or procedures in support of orderly systems change.
European UnionThe European Ombudsman was established bythe Maastricht treaty, the treaty establishingthe European Union. The current EuropeanOmbudsman, holding office since April 1, 2003,is Nikiforos Diamandouros, former nationalombudsman of Greece. The European UnionOmbudsman investigates claims by individualsor companies which reside or have theirinterests within the European Union againstincidents of bad administration by bodies orinstitutions of the European Union.
SpainThe Spanish state ombudsman is the Defender of thePeople (Defensor del Pueblo), dealing with complaints ofmaladministration and having the capacity to bring cases at theConstitutional Court. The office is prominent in the internationalnetworks of ombudsmen and national human rights institutions,particularly through the Ibero-American Ombudsman Federation(FIO).