The needs of the Office of the Ombudsman in the discharge of expanded mandates are not being met due to the lack of staff.
The Members of Parliament heard this when the Chairman of the Parliament Standing Orders Committee, Aeau Peniamina Leavaiseeta, moved a motion for the Committee’s report to be approved with recommendations on the Annual Report of the Office of the Ombudsman.
Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi read out the responses provided by the Office on the recommendations of the Committee.
“The Office noted that the various recommendations in the Disability Report which was highlighted by the Standing Orders Committee were matters for the Government to consider and act upon.
“However, in regards to the Office itself, the discoveries in the area of people with disabilities highlight the great need for quality work in awareness-raising and education within the community.
“The importance of awareness-raising has shown up in other areas of significance of the Communication and Education portfolio within the Office,” stated Tuilaepa. He further noted from the responses, the Office of the Ombudsman has multiple mandates which are usually undertaken in other countries by totally separate establishments.
“Our approach is sensible for Samoa.
“We would lose however, the advantage of the amalgamated approach if these functions are staffed top to bottom to operate as separate units within the office.
“The Ombudsman from the beginning has opted for an organization with a relatively small staff of high quality officers who can be assigned responsibilities to carry the distinctly different mandates of the office at all times, but who are also deployed when needed to meet the pressing needs at different times of all the mandates.
“The value of the Ombudsman to the community lies in the quality of his [Commissioner] conclusions and advice.”
Tuilaepa noted this was never achieved by surrounding the Commissioner with hordes of middle level officers, no matter how many.
“Cabinet has already looked carefully into the needs of the Ombudsman in the discharge of his expanded mandates and approved staffing requirements in its decision FK (15)15; of 23 April 2015.
• “Negotiations based on this decision made with the Ministry of Finance and the former Honourable Minister for the Ombudsman’s Office settled on the following; Three new positions at the level requested to be filled one at a time in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
• “Appointment to the remaining one of these vacancies yet to be filled is expected to be made in March 2017.”
The Prime Minister further noted that funds are provided in the budget 2016/2017.
“This office is carefully evaluating how best to make the necessary adjustments in position allocations and reshuffling the needs of the Office to properly serve the needs of the three mandates and maintain fair staff salary relativities.
“With the resources that have been progressively approved by government in recent years and those provided in the current budget, the Ombudsman envisaged having a competent and versatile team of quality senior officers to meet his Office’s foreseeable staffing needs across the board.”
He further noted the Government has been working closely and pragmatically with the Office of the Ombudsman to progressively meet its staffing needs in a meaningful way.
“Future staffing requirements at lower levels as the Office develops and grows would need to be considered in consultation with M.o.F. and submitted for Cabinet approval when the need arises.
“The Ombudsman Office staffing does not come within the review of the PSC.
“The Parliamentary Committee’s recommendations advocating lower level staff is appreciated and accepted by government.”