The Ombudsman’s Office this week announced very disconcerting news; at least 455 government officials have ignored calls to declare their wealth as the law requires.
The deadline for the declaration was five months ago, and now the office is threatening to write letters to the defaulters.
This brings to mind many questions: why should the Ombudsman wait this long to react? The most plausible answer would be lack of adequate resources. But would that be the only reason?
Since the office was instituted in 2003, it has been seen as more of an advisory and reconciliatory body, rather than one that can wield any clout.
This could be one reason why many senior government officials who have something to hide simply lock away the wealth declaration forms in their drawers.
The Office of the Ombudsman is also overburdened by complaints; it gets bogged down by issues that could otherwise be resolved by other services.
Most of the complaints it receives are about land disputes or perceived injustice, that could be settled by local authorities.
Plans to give the Office more powers are on the drawing board, and they are long overdue. But this calls for more resources since more responsibilities will soon be piled on its platter.
The new Access to Information Act that is in the pipeline will not make things any easier for the Office. It will be the sole arbitrator in any complaint regarding obstruction of access to information. Quite a handful.
In the meantime, what does the Office of the Ombudsman have in store for the errant civil servants? Wouldn’t this be the right moment to start getting used to flexing its muscles by throwing the book at the offenders, instead of just writing threatening letters that might also be ignored?