KARACHI: The Sindh government has decided to add another feather to the cap of the chief minister by conferring upon him the authority to hire and appoint the provincial ombudsperson and to oversee the functions and operations of the department.
According to official sources, the provincial ministry of law and justice has prepared a draft of amendments in the law — Establishment of the Office of Provincial Ombudsman for the Province of Sindh Act, 1991 — which created the department of the ombudsperson to deal with public complaints and grievances and to ensure its redressal.
Under the law, the authority to appoint the ombudsperson rested with the governor who was also the appointing authority for the vice-chancellors of public sector universities and the chairmen of the examination boards.
But taking advantage of the 18th Amendment, the Sindh Assembly amended all the relevant laws, depriving the governor of his role in matters of universities and boards and bestowing the same powers upon the chief minister. However, the law dealing with the department of ombudsman was not changed.
According to the law, “there shall be ombudsperson for the Province of Sindh who shall be appointed by the Governor,” and he “shall hold office for a period of four years.”
The law empowers the ombudsperson to investigate, redress and rectify any injustice done to a person through maladministration of any department of the government of Sindh.
Sources privy to the matter said that the law should have been amended much earlier, transferring the authority and power to chief minister from the governor. However, following complaints of alleged illegal appointments in the ombudsperson’s headquarters and its regional offices and reports about the abuse of authority by the ombudsman and other officials, the government has decided to extend its executive authority over the ombudsperson’s office.
Some people have also agitated the issue of three extensions given to the sitting ombudsperson. The former governor, Dr Ishratul Ebad Khan, had appointed Asad Ashraf Malik as ombudsperson on January 7, 2008, while he was still in police service. Dr Khan gave him the first extension in 2012 and another in 2016.
An official in the Sindh government expressed the belief that this could be one of the factors compelling the government to bring the ombudsperson’s office under the executive control of chief minister.
The proposed amendments in the law, empowering the chief minister to take over control of the ombudsperson’s office are likely to be presented before the next meeting of the provincial cabinet for its consideration and approval.
According to information gathered by The Express Tribune, more than eight amendments are being proposed in the provincial ombudsperson law. The mechanism of appointment and tenure of provincial ombudsperson will also be changed under the draft bill. These amendments will authorise the chief minister to not only appoint the ombudsperson but also empower him to look after and manage the administrative, financial and functional aspects of the ombudsperson’s establishment.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 2nd, 2019.