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Bring your tears and fears, public protector tells women

BETTING
By | March 17th 2010

By Njoki Karuoya

In any office environment, people work hard hoping to be recognised for their efforts and be remunerated accordingly. Where one bends backwards and goes the extra mile to ensure his or her work is done perfectly, to the extent that the company or institution gains more benefits than expected, then it is assumed the person will gain a promotion or, at the very least, a pay raise.

That, however, is not always the case. It is one of the reasons why the Public Complaints Standing Committee (PCSC), or the Ombudsman in local parlance, was set up — to provide a platform where those disappointed by services provided especially by Government institutions can go and vent, and they will be heard. And here is the interesting thing — the platform is not only for civil servants to use but the public, too.

Last week, I had a chat with three of the Ombudsman’s committee members — Chairman Ambassador James Simani, vice-chairperson Grace Madoka and Nafisa Abass, a member.

Since its inception about two years ago, the committee has received about 2,500 complaints. Of these, about 300 are women, raising concerns over whether majority are aware of the existence of the Ombudsman and what it can do for them.

"Perhaps the low turnout of women complainants is cultural," suggested Abass.

"Women tend to internalise their problems while men are encouraged to talk about them and seek solutions."

Interestingly, most of the women complainants are teachers and police officers, and a large percentage of the grievances revolve around wrongful dismissals.

"We are concerned because women deserve the same services as men," said Madoka.

"They need to demand to receive services they pay for or work so hard for."

In case you’ve forgotten about the office of the Ombudsman and what it does, here is a brief rundown of what the Public Protector’s office.

Although the idea was conceived in the 1970s to deal with lapses in service delivery to citizens, the PCSC office was officially launched on June 29, 2007 by the President to receive and document complaints against public officers in ministries, parastatals, State corporations, statutory bodies and all other public institutions.

The Ombudsman is also expected to enquire into allegations of misuse of office, corruption, unethical conduct, breach of integrity, maladministration, undue delays, injustice, discourtesy, lack of attention, incompetence, misbehaviour, inefficiency and ineptitude of any public officer or institution.

Every single day I hear people complaining on FM stations or to each other on the ineffectiveness of a public institution or how a public officer demanded kitu kidogo before providing a service he or she is paid to do.

Sadly, these voices rarely get to the PCSC where they will gain the satisfaction of knowing that their matter will be followed up and something done about it.

In many cases, the best way to reform the way people behave, treat others or do their work is for their bosses to summon them and inform them they are under investigation for inappropriate or corrupt behaviour.

Autonomy

That will definitely straighten them up even if the case does not end up in court, hence the importance of the PCSC.

"Those who have complained to us have been very happy with the results, and this is largely because we get a lot of goodwill from Permanent Secretaries," said Abass.

Added Madoka. "However, to be more effective in implementing our mandate, we need more teeth. Our overall objective is to spearhead reforms. It is, therefore, important that the office of the Ombudsman is entrenched in the Constitution to guarantee its independence, and that an Act of Parliament be drafted and passed to institutionalise our investigation and prosecution abilities."

Ambassador Simani concluded: "The PCSC should not be lumped together with the Kenya Human Rights and Equality Commission as is currently proposed in the draft Constitution. Only if we are autonomous and entrenched in the Constitution will we have the power to summon officers, order them to produce documents and have the power to punish contempt and oversight."

Now that I’m fully aware of the power I have to rattle inefficient and ineffective public officers, I intend to seek the services of the public protector more often, and I hope you do, too. The PSCS owns a big shoulder for all citizens to cry on and express their disappointment, anger and frustration at errant Government officers.

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