Don’t weaken watchdog: INA

National, Normal

THE Institute of National Affairs (INA) has sounded the alarm that a proposed bill is likely to be presented in Parliament which, if passed, will weaken the powers of the Ombudsman Commission and diminish accountability in leaders.
“A proposed alteration to the Constitution relating to the Ombudsman Commission and its powers, and to the duties and responsibilities of leaders may be tabled,” INA director Paul Barker said.
Parliament has been recalled to sit tomorrow.
This proposed amendment follows the hearings of the Parliamentary Committee on the Ombudsman, headed by Esa’ala MP Moses Maladina.
The committee’s recommendations were presented, inferring an intention to strengthen and give more power to the commission, but Mr Barker believed otherwise.
“A few sections of the proposed amendment provide for some reinforcement of powers and discretion, but the overall thrust would undermine the commission’s powers and make its task harder,” Mr Barker warned.
Notably, the changes will be in providing evidence satisfactory to conclude a successful referral under the Leadership Code.
“It would, hence, diminish accountability by leaders and seriously weaken the commission’s capacity to protect public office from abuse.”
The concern is that the proposed changes will undermine the capacity of the commission to act promptly and readily to restrain abuse.
“Many already complain that the commission moves too slowly anyway, partly owing to internal processes, but imposing extra procedural requirements and restraining capacity to intervene or publicly expose, sends the wrong signals,” he said.
Another concern is that once the commission is weakened, extensive and serious abuses will prevail and rise, notably, theft of public funds, massive out of court settlements, multi-million kina contracts awarded to associated firms outside due process and so forth as seen in the Commission of Inquiry into the Finance Department so far.
He urged for common sense to prevail as the commission was set up to protect public offices from abuse, using the less demanding evidential rules under the Leadership Code.
“Now is certainly not the time to be weakening already inadequate controls over the behaviour of leaders,” Mr Barker said.
He said there was some hype among stakeholders about the setting up of an independent anti-corruption commission with strong investigative and potentially independent prosecuting powers, but he said this would remain talk unless it was funded and empowered accordingly.