Many shades of the Ombudsman aka Lokpal

Ajay Vaishnav / Zee Research Group

India is debating the finer points of the Lokpal Bill which will appoint an ombudsman to fight corruption and defend people’s rights. We look at some other countries where such an office exists.

Sweden, 1809

The Scandinavian nation was the first country to institute such an office. The four-member office (one chief and three members) is appointed by the Swedish Parliament for a term of four years. However, its jurisdiction doesn’t include any member of Parliament. The office can take up complaints suo motu and its jurisdiction extends to all state and municipal authorities, officials employed in public enterprises, armed forces, police and courts. It deals with roughly 7,000 cases annually but its recommendations are not binding.

Finland, 1920

Has to be a legal expert. More powerful than his Swedish counterpart. Appointed by Parliament for a four-year term. Oversees the legality of the actions of government ministers and the president of the republic apart from the actions of the courts of law and employees of public bodies. Can prosecute the official, issue a reprimand for future guidance or rebuke. However, the legislative work or actions of the members of legislature and private companies are beyond his jurisdiction.

New Zealand, 1962

Appointed by the Governor General. Oversees the actions of central and local government agencies and ministries. Can initiate action based on just an oral complaint. Can investigate independently and submit his recommendation to the department head. If no action is taken, then the ombudsman can forward the recommendations to the House of Representatives. According to the annual report for 2009-10, the office received almost 10,000 complaints, up from 9,150 the previous year. Over half of these concerned the prisons.

The United Kingdom, 1967

The ombudsman here is called the Parliamentary Commissioner and is appointed by the Prime Minister for a term of seven years. He cannot take suo motu action. He can act only on the basis of a written complaint which must first be approved by a member of parliament. There are no specific eligibility criteria for getting selected and his jurisdiction includes ministers and bureaucrats.

Hong Kong, 1988

Can place his recommendations before the head of department concerned and then before legislative council if no action is taken. There is a growing opinion in Hong Kong that the Ombudsman should be given more teeth. However, according to the annual report of 2010, 40 percent of the complaints were unsubstantiated, only 25 percent were fully substantiated, and the rest were partially substantiated.

Indonesia, 2008

Indonesia is one of the most recent countries to institute this office. The Ombudsman is elected by the House of Representatives based on the nominations by the President of the country. Its jurisdiction includes not just public officials but also private sector entities which are involved in administering public services. Within three years, the Indonesian Ombudsman office has close to 3000 followers on its Facebook page and 220 Twitter followers.