House rejects proposed immunity for Ombudsmen, investigators
Ombudsman to entertain cases involving foreign expats
The House of Peoples’ Representatives (HPR) has approved a new draft proclamation providing for the establishment of an Ombudsman Institution repealing the existing proclamation – Ethiopian Institution of the Ombudsman Proclamation No. 211/2000—after rejecting a provision that bestows legal immunity on ombudsmen and investigators of the Institution.
The newly introduced draft that proposesa legal immunity to the Chief and deputy Ombudsmen together with investigators has been spark a bit of a controversy in the House, while being rejected by MPs at the end.
During its 35th regular session held on Tuesday, MPs discussed on the reports made by the Law, Justice and Democracy Standing committee which has been reviewing the draft law referred to it in December 2018.
Titled “The Ethiopian Institution of the Ombudsman Establishment Proclamation No 1142 /2019,” the newly endorsed bill entertains additional resolutions that give foreign nationals engaged in Ethiopia, the right to present their administrative related complaints or right violation cases to the Office.
Regarding the issue of immunity, the draft bill in its Article 37 said that “No appointee [Chief Ombudsman and his deputy], or investigator, any expertise of the institution appointed to examine maladministration investigations or director of the investigation office with the institution may not be arrested, accused or detained without the permission of the House or the Chief Ombudsman, respectively, except when caught in flagrante delicto, for a serious offence.”
However, several MPs opposed this article and requested for the removal of the article citing it contradicts with the Constitution. They also argued that immunity is granted only for elected officials.
Due to the heated debate, the House Speaker TagesseChaffo requested the House to vote specifically on the immunity provision, whether it should be omitted or adopted. The MPs agreed with the Speaker and conducted voting procedures which saw MPs overwhelmingly reject the immunity provision.
Furthermore, the draft bill also adds the scope of investigations of the Institution regarding matters of mal-administration.
In addition, the new bill further empowers the Office over any other government bodies or institutions that tend to be uncooperative or fail to respond to the Office’s request regarding evidence, information and other cooperation.This applies to both during and after investigations periods, where the office delivers its report and orders any investigated institutions to comply with its order.
According to the draft, the institution mainly has the power to supervise regulations or administrative directives issued by executive organs or decisions taken by the executive organ, and the practices thereof. It has the power to conduct investigations on the basis of complaints submitted by/or on its own volition, conducting a systemic investigation on important issues. Among others, the institution can also recommend appropriate remedies where it believes maladministration has occurred.
The amended proclamation stipulates a minimum of first degree in law, public administration or other relevant discipline from recognized universities and an extensive work experience, to be among the requirements for appointees to be nominated as a Chief Ombudsman.
Besides the additional power the new bill grants to the institution, it also lists some limitations.Among them, the institution shall have no power to investigate decisions given by the Council, and is also prevented from investigating decisions given or cases pending in courts of law or quasi- judicial organs.According to the new provision, the institution’s council has the power to undertake and implement organizational structure studies appropriate for its functions, notwithstanding the Federal Civil Servants Proclamation.
In addition to that, the council shall also undertake studies with regards to a special salary scale of employees. However, itsstudies and findings should be submitted to the House for approval.
The new bill further provides punishments for offences listed, such as failing to comply or obstruction of investigation.
These stated offences carry punishment by imprisonment for five to seven years or a fine of 10,000 birr or both.
After debating on the Standing Committee’s report the House endorsed the bill despite rejecting article concerning immunity.