PRETORIA- MONDAY, 1ST NOVEMBER, 2016 –ZAMBIA’S Public Protector, Mrs. Caroline Sokoni, formerly Investigator General of Zambia, says her new role will be more effective given the change in mandate, powers and increased autonomy that her institution has assumed.
Speaking when she paid a courtesy call on Zambia’s High Commissioner to South Africa, His Excellency Mr. Emmanuel Mwamba in Pretoria this morning, Mrs. Sokoni, welcomed the transitioning of the Commission for Investigations to the Office of the Public Protector following the enactment of the new constitution.
Mrs. Sokoni said her work would now be appreciated by the general public as her office was allowed to investigate matters and hold proceedings publicly. She said the office now had powers to compel public service institutions to enforce the decisions of the Public Protector. With this transitioning, her title effectively transforms from Investigator General to Public Protector.
She said unlike previously when her office was an executive ombudsman, reporting to the Head of State, the current law required that the Public Protector reports to Parliament. The Office of the Public Protector has been moved from the Public Service Commission to the Parliamentary Service Commission which would also appoint all staff to serve under the Public Protector.
“Previously, we were reporting to the President who is part of the Executive wing of Government. This was difficult because the same Executive, to which we were supposed to report, would have some individuals whom we would want to investigate. But now we will be reporting to Parliament, which gives us autonomy.”
“What is even more encouraging is that we will no longer be holding our investigations in camera but are now allowed to hold public hearings. The law has now also made our decisions binding and allows us to enforce those decisions unlike previously when we could only make recommendations,” Mrs. Sokoni said.
And Zambia’s High Commissioner to South Africa has said that government was proud that Mrs. Sokoni was highly respected by her peers as they had elected her to positions of Africa President for the International Ombudsman Institute (IOI) and as Treasurer General for the African Ombudsman and Mediators Association.
Mr. Mwamba also appealed to Constitutional office holders to take note of President Edgar Lungu’s concern that despite the security of tenure constitutional officers enjoyed, there was lax in the exercise of their functions and duties.
Mrs. Sokoni appealed to government to ensure that financial and technical support was given to these institutions to help them execute their mandates effectively.
She also welcomed other powers that her office now had, including the mandate to go to court or submit reports to a select committee of Parliament to compel certain institutions to enforce its decisions.
The Public Protector described her role as that of a General Services Ombudsman covering all areas ranging from human rights issues or breaches, issues affecting people with disabilities to various other cases involving vulnerable people such as women and children.
“Our mandate is actually overwhelming. We have since looked at cases of unpaid pensions where 13 cases are currently under investigations. Another example of a case we have handled and successfully mediated involves a government employee who had been given a job and even confirmed in that position but was dismissed later on the basis that one of his parents was not Zambian.. This officer had to be re-assigned elsewhere.”
Mrs. Sokoni noted that her institution has also learnt that some civil servants where being owed money in unpaid leave days and various other allowances of which complaints bordering on such issues have overwhelmed her office.
She said she would engage relevant Government officials so that a solution could be found to avoid further accruals of such debt, a situation which, in the processes, disadvantaged the workers.
Mrs. Sokoni is in South Africa to attend the African Ombudsman and Mediators Association General Assembly in Durban which runs from 2 – 4th November, 2016.
The General Assembly discusses regional issues of common interest and explores ways of establishing offices in countries which do not have such facilities, among other issues.
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