Ombudsman welcomes proposal to entrench office’s appointment in Constitution

Ombudsman Anthony Mifsud welcomes government's proposal to Venice Commission to include his office's appointment, removal and suspension in the Constitution

Ombudsman Anthony Mifsud
Ombudsman Anthony Mifsud

The Parliamentary Ombudsman has welcomed the proposal by the government to entrench in the Constitution the process of appointing, removal and suspending of the Ombudsman's office.

The government sent the proposed legal changes concerning the Ombudsman to the Venice Commission earlier this month.

In a press release on Friday, Ombudsman Anthony Mifsud said he had met with the Venice Commission via conference call to discuss the government's legislative changes.

Mifsud noted that he had regularly and expressly suggested that, in a redrafting of a new Constitution, the provisions regulating the Office of Ombudsman and that of the Auditor General should be grouped together and placed in a separate title immediately after those regulating Parliament.

"The Constitution should recognise their status as authorities answerable to Parliament, entrusted by it to verify that the actions of the executive conform to legislation enacted by it and satisfy the requisites of the right to a good public administration," the Ombudsman said.

Parliamentary debates on final opinions sent to Parliament

The Ombudsman, however, noted that the recommendation made by government to the Venice Commission for a mandatory parliamentary discussion on the Ombudsman's reports was limited only to the annual report, which outlines a generic picture of the work conducted by his office and the Commissioners during the year in review. 

"This falls short from the opinion made by the Venice Commission which recommended that Parliament should be obliged to debate reports addressed to it by the Ombudsman," Mifsud highlighted.

When the Ombudsman’s recommendations for the award of appropriate redress are left pending or else are not accepted, from time to time, the Ombudsman and the Commissioners send copies of the reports and recommendations to the House of Representatives, he said.

"The Ombudsman has time and time again insisted that it should be the House of Representatives that should finally determine whether the opinion of the Ombudsman and the Commissioners, who are its officers, and the recommendations made by them to rectify administrative injustice, merited to be further discussed to determine whether they were correct and should be sustained."

Mifsud recommended that the Speaker should refer reports sent to him by the Ombudsman to the appropriate Standing Committee of the House and that such reference should be followed by a debate statutorily provided for in Standing Orders. 

Amendment to the Freedom of Information Act

Mifsud went on to note that one of the main concerns voiced by the Venice Commission in its recommendations to Malta related to the availability of information that the Parliamentary Ombudsman and his Commissioners require from the public administration for the proper investigation of complaints.

"In its proposals the government made no reference to this issue," he lamented.

"The Office of the Ombudsman concurs with its statement in paragraph 100 that 'the Freedom of Information Act should be updated using available international models to guarantee transparency of the administration vis-à-vis the media and the citizens."

"Even though information to the Office of the Ombudsman is generally forthcoming, the public administration including public authorities adopt a non-cooperative attitude when the subject matter of the complaint or the own initiative investigation does not conform with the government’s objectives or policies. This is fundamentally wrong and unacceptable," Mifsud added.