Ombudsman’s powers must not be diminished

Editorial, Normal

ON the day Bernard Narokobi’s spirit departed his earthly shell last week, Parliament broke the spirit of the Ombudsman Commission.
It seemed almost too much to be coincidental that the man who, as a youthful lawyer, breathed life and substance into the constitutional office of the Ombudsman Commission during his stint with the constitutional planning committee in 1973 and 1974 appeared to take much of it with him.
Were he alive, he would renounce such credits and say many more people in every corner of the country took 18 months to breathe life into the Constitution and that no one person should take credit for it, least of it himself.
He would, at the same time, be livid with rage at the move by Parliament to remove much of the powers of the Ombudsman Commission as it relates to providing accountability by politicians.
How can politicians remove the very powers that might, at least, keep the dishonest ones among them honest?
We leave that question and turn to the historical aspect for the emergence of the Ombudsman Commission and for the powers it has.
The constitutional planning committee, so much as we can gather, in considering the office of the Ombudsman Commission, was concerned at the relative youth, lack of education and sophistication of the political leaders at the time and in the foreseeable future.
It needed to create an office that could provide clear guide for leaders to follow in the conduct of their duties and responsibilities. It, therefore, established the Leadership Code on the duties and responsibilities of leadership to be administered by the OC.
The code was first, and foremost, a protective device to ensure the good name, integrity and respect for the high office of leadership was maintained at all times and, by no action or inaction of the leader, should such a good name be called into disrepute.
Over the years, leaders have formed the opinion, perhaps because of the regularity with which they have been hauled before the commission, that the OC was spurious, vindictive, inhibitive and anti-progress. This has led directly to the present move, on an amendment bill by Esa’ala MP, Moses Maladina, to remove certain powers and functions. Additionally, a parliamentary committee on the Ombudsman has been established as a watchdog on the watchdog.
The charge in Parliament has been given the green light by Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare who is himself tied up in a knot of sorts by the Ombudsman’s referral of him to the public prosecutor. His case is doing the rounds in the courts at present and further comment would be sub-judice.
But Sir Michael was himself the Ombudsman Commission’s chief supporter and, indeed on March 3, 1978, he announced to a stunned Parliament that he would implement the provisions of the Leadership Code and called on all leaders to declare their business dealings to the Ombudsman.
Throughout the years in various positions, he watched the ebb and flow of politics and political fortunes but refused stoutly to get in the way of the Ombudsman Commission’s work.
It was only when the OC touched him that he launched himself into furious self-defence and, maybe, the child he nurtured along with the late Bernard Narokobi, Sir John Kaputin, John Momis and all the other distinguished fathers of the Constitutions – dead and living – now faces an uncertain and crippled future because of it.
Let it be said, however, that Sir Michael’s distinguished career will surely come to an end. Many say soon, others prefer to wait, knowing how power’s influence upon all is ever unpredictable. But it will come to an end as life surely must.
When that inevitable day arrives, what legacy does the father of the nation leave for future generations – a country where politicians and powerful civil servants run rampant and reign supreme – those well meaning and those many others not so well meaning? Or will it be a country where individuals shall come and they shall go but the cornerstone of this democracy is as stable as anywhere, that it shall not be moved, that nothing – not greed, not pride, not deceit shall move the foundation laid by Sir Michael and the other fathers of the nation.
That would be quite a legacy to leave behind.