The ombudsman is an impartial and independent dispute resolution mechanism that does not necessarily involve going to court. The ombudsman plays a critical role in ensuring that government and private institutions are held accountable.
The range of ombudsman offices namely legal, financial, and energy indicate the wide range of topics with which the ombudsman can become involved on behalf of the complainant. It is worth noting that the office of the ombudsman does get involved in more than the three areas listed.
The office of the ombudsman has a long history attached to it. It traces its origins back about 2000 years ago in China. The original Chinese ombudsman did not play the role of advocating for individuals but the system in its entirety.
The Swedish institution, from which the office gets its name, was first established in 1809 and originally identified with improvement of the system as opposed to individual representation. However, there is little doubt that the office has acted to uphold the interests and rights of the individual.
Today, the office of the ombudsman exists in many different government systems and cultures.
Principles of Operation
Ombudsman schemes have been established to cater to many different areas, handling complaints from individuals about private companies and public bodies. Some of the schemes are established under law while others have been established by the industries that they investigate. While schemes will differ slightly, they still share some common principles:
Independence of the Organizations they Handle Complaints About: This independence is what separates the office from the ombudsman from other schemes established to handle complaints.
Fairness When Conducting Investigations: The office of the ombudsman is impartial and never on the side of either party.
Effectiveness: The ombudsman should be accessible and any findings should be acted upon.
Transparency and Openness: The office of the ombudsman is open in the way it handles its operations.
Accountability: The office of the ombudsman reports what it does publicly.
What Does The Office of the Ombudsman Do?
Ombudsman schemes are defined clearly and only handle complaints that match their scheme’s criteria. The ombudsman only considers complaints after the organization has been offered the opportunity to handle it.
Upon exhaustion of the organization’s process for handling complaints, individuals can approach the ombudsman to get the complaint resolved if they believed that the organization either handled it unsatisfactorily or never resolved it at all.
Ombudsman schemes are impartial and are never on the side of the organization or the individual. They first assess fact that surround each case then provide an impartial decision. Most ombudsman schemes even have timetables set for targets for completion of complaint investigations and responses.
Ombudsman schemes sometimes order remedies either in form of financial compensation for expenses the problem caused or an apology. In some schemes, the ombudsman only recommends the provision of a remedy. However, the aim in all cases is to restore the individual back to the position they were in before the problem emerged.
The ombudsman is clearly a very important role since it helps keep private and government institutions in check. It ensures that the rights of citizens are upheld.