Duty Well Done

The Punjab Ombudsman's Office has proven that if all governmental departments resolve to fulfill their assigned obligations, there is no reason why Pakistan cannot rub shoulders with the most advanced nations of the world.

Duty Well Done

“We never fail when we try to do our duty, we always fail when we neglect to do it.”Robert Baden Powell

Administration that covers different dimensions like governance, management, control, supervision etc. is not meant for people who lack discipline, competence and a sense of duty. Perfectionists are usually reluctant to delegate responsibilities to others for fear of failing, so they usually end up doing all work themselves. Handling the affairs of any organization is not an easy task, what to talk of the complex machinery of a country’s government, that is definitely not the job of a single person. Unless the right person is posted for the right job, one cannot expect all departments to function smoothly. One can take the example of a huge plant that is manufacturing finished products. A single loose nut in the machinery can disrupt the entire process, that in turn can cause a breakdown, if not fixed in time.

The realm of public service is highly complicated. Those trying to serve the people are assigned with multiple responsibilities to protect the state and its interests, to enforce rules and regulations, to perform in a manner that allows the state machinery to operate efficiently. Take the home for example. If matters are not organized properly and members of the family do not carry out their duties, there is bound to be chaos, while the residents could easily find themselves becoming victims of mental and physical ailments besides financial strains. When this situation is magnified umpteenth times at the government level, imagine the accompanying complexities in running a province, what to talk of the entire country. The health and wealth of a nation is directly proportionate to the way this vast governance mechanism works. A cleaner environment would automatically result in amiable conditions for a better life for all.

One would hope that having fulfilled all necessary requirements, it would be a simple thing to say, have a license for publication processed but then a clerk strikes it down because of a non-descript or rather irrelevant objection. Then one happens to notice another case where a significant document is absent but the license is issued within minutes. Anyone who has had some experience with government departments would exactly know why and how this can occur. Of course, one was trying to be dutiful and taking care of all formalities to ensure that there would not be complications in the future, while another was more interested in short-term benefits. Not that the former was unwilling to oblige but the applicant was perhaps unaware of the established modus operandi. When such things occur, there would definitely be frustration and of course delay which may compel the need to go to a higher authority.

The multitude of public service departments that have mushroomed over time to take care of all the nitty gritty that are a natural consequence of modern day developments, while facilitating people in many ways, also tend to cause hardships. Although there are internal systems of checks and balances, whereby registered complaints are addressed by those in charge, yet many are turned back on one ground or the other, much to the disappointment of the complainant. The department’s goodwill could be hurt if its employees are found indulging in illegal gratification or abuse of power, therefore few are taken to task on even genuine concerns. So, in order to redress grievances, a person can either seek legal remedies or refer case to one of many ombudsmen who are appointed specifically for this purpose in line with providing the public with inexpensive and expeditious access to justice.

On 19 October 2022, during a conference in Baku, Mr. Ejaz Ahmad Qureshi, Pakistan’s Federal Ombudsman explained that the existence of maladministration and bad governance in the public sector breed an environment of favouritism, discrimination, corruption and exploitation where human rights become the first casualties. In other words, he was trying to imply that sans empathy and integrity, inhumanity is bound to seep in any system. This is the reason why Pakistan too, like some other countries introduced the office of Ombudsman that can be found at both federal and provincial levels. 

On May 2, 2024, the Office of Ombudsman (Mohtasib) Punjab held a press conference highlighting its performance during 2023, the report of which was formally presented to the Governor Punjab. Whereas all departments would love to flaunt their performances but the fact is that if they were as efficient as they would like to portray then the office of Punjab Ombudsman would not be flooded with thousands of complaints. It is more difficult to address grievances and find their solutions, than resolve issues in the first place. In performance of their duties, the Punjab Ombudsman Office and its efficient staff has been most diligent in taking cognizance of various applications calling for immediate adjudication and achieving a remarkable figure of almost 100 percent disposal.

The most troublesome aspect of an Ombudsman’s office is the multiplicity of departments that it is confronted with. Having to deal with one is such a pain but negotiating settlements with many is another story. Besides, acting competently in recovering government’s properties, striking a balance between the state and the people by itself demands tremendous prudence and effective deliberations that 2023 report sheds light upon. Completing the construction of five regional offices various districts, establishment of ‘Research & Development’ wing to carry out educative studies to further improve working and in keeping pace with technological advances, introduction of e-complaints, automation, and archive management are some feathers in its cap. Well done!

The Punjab Ombudsman's Office has set an excellent example of performance of duties and achieving commendable success indicators. It has proved that if all governmental departments resolve to fulfill their assigned obligations there is no reason why Pakistan cannot rub shoulders with the most advanced nations of the world.

The writer is a lawyer and author, and an Adjunct Faculty at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)