Ombudsman lose power

                                           By Isaac Nicholas - The National

Parliament has taken the first steps to weaken the powers of the Ombudsman Commission and establish a parliamentary Ombudsman committee that will have powers to make inquiries of its own.

Parliament yesterday voted 83-0 to amend section 27(4) of the Constitution to remove the powers of the Ombudsman issuing directives to ministers and heads of departments.

Section 27(4) allows the Ombudsman to issue directives to prevent payments out of public fund, or trips by MPs, or other actions by these office holders if it (the Commission) feels impropriety is involved.

For example, the Commission has, in the past, used this provision to stop MPs taking overseas trips when it felt the trips were a waste of public funds.

The Commission had also used this provision to prevent cheques being issued by the Finance Department if it felt the motives were political.

The Commission had, in the past, used this provision to block the release of electoral development fund cheques for MPs close to the 2002 and 2007 general elections.

The Commission also froze the REST funds last year using this provision after allegations emerged that millions of Kina were misappropriated  and given away without following proper procurement processes.

Some MPs themselves had gone to the media to complain of about this misuse of REST funds, particularly in Kerevat and Aiyura national high schools. But these MPs did not oppose the bill.

The amendments were introduced yesterday as private business motion by Esa'ala MP Moses Maladina.

Mr Maladina said section 27 (4) had been used by the Ombudsman Commission on numerous occasions to stop the issuing of cheques, thus preventing the implementation of Government policies and initiatives.

"We want to make it very clear for the purpose of Hansard that the action of the Ombudsman Commission in issuing such directives using section 27(4) is wrong."

Mr Maladina said from time to time, the Ombudsman had also utilised section 27(4) in issuing directives to airlines in an attempt to prevent leaders travelling  to conduct their duties.

He sid on many occasions, there had been public physical confrontations between officers of the Ombudsman Commission and leaders at the international terminal.

He said it was not the intention of Parliament for the Ombudsman Commission to utilise section 27(4) to confront leaders in this manner.

On the Ombudsman Committee, Mr Maladina said the committee's responsibilities were to address Ombudsman reports presented in Parliament and function like the Public Accounts Committee.

"Where the PAC deals with financial issues, the Ombudsman committee should deal with administrative issues.

"If, for example, lives are lost because of  lack of medicine at the Port Moresby General Hospital and because people are turned away due to lack of beds, despite allocations of millions of Kina in the health budget, it could be an issue which the committee can make a parliamentary inquiry;" Mr Maladina said.



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