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Ombudsman: The Office needs more money to be effective

By Michelle Sutherland

The Office of the Ombudsman needs more financing and resources to better be able to execute its mandate, a recently released report from the office underscored.

Following the release of its mid-year report, Ombudsman Major Retired Gilbert Swaso detailed the lack of finance for the office, which he says does not allow the officers to fully carry out their investigation as efficiently as possible.

The lack of finance, however, was not the only shortcoming highlighted. The Ombudsman likewise feels that the office is heavily dependent on the Clerk of the National Assembly for administrative functions. This, he says, has led to a delay in processes and a compromise of the Ombudsman’s independence and the integrity of the office.

The Ombudsman also referred to the limited staff at his disposal. He cited the fact that the Office has only one investigator who must take the lead in conducting investigations in all matters of complaints.

This, he says, causes severe backlogs and negatively affects the productivity of the office. He also brought up the physical location of the office and how that may affect the filing of complaints in person.

The Ombudsman also called out the various ministries, departments, government agencies, and their head that have been reluctant to cooperate and provide information necessary for investigations. This, Swaso say, has caused undue delays in resolving matters and ultimately generates dissatisfaction among citizens who make use of the office.

The Ombudsman also raised concerns regarding payment of benefits and remunerations to retired public officers.

From investigations, it seems that in many instances, those responsible for processing retirement benefits have not been keeping good records or, at the very least, have been negligent in processing files required for retirement benefits.

As such, there have been cases where individuals had attained the age of retirement for several years before any payment was made. This issue is of high concern, as retirees have complained of their financial hardships and their struggles in meeting their daily needs and expenses without any form of income.”

Likewise, the Ombudsman also referred to what he deems as the “wrongful detention of illegal immigrant” which he says may cause the country to be in breach of the human rights. In some cases, it was observed that individuals convicted of immigration offenses are kept incarcerated for prolonged periods beyond their sentences.

This has resulted in a burden to the Belize Central Prison as it becomes burdensome for the prison to effectively manage the inflow of remanded offenders who are kept incarcerated for some time.

The Ombudsman also pointed out that due to the lack of proper facilities, the court system has become heavily reliant on the Belize Central Prison for the rehabilitation of individuals who suffer from mental illness.

“The Ombudsman is, therefore, concerned that the incarceration of mental patients may lead to the further deterioration or worsening of their various mental illnesses. It is the belief of the Office that the Belize Central Prison is not able to properly rehabilitate these individuals or provide the type of services they require”

In closing, the Ombudsman office recommended an increased budget for the office. It also recommended that the various offices keep good records of staff which will become handy for retirement, and that the relevant ministry institutes the requisite system to deal with irregular immigrants and mentally ill persons.

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