The Commission on Administrative Justice, more commonly known as “Office of the Ombudsman”, is a constitutional commission established under Article 59(4) of the Constitution, and the Commission on Administrative Justice Act, 2011.
The Commission investigates, on its own motion or upon complaint, any conduct in state affairs, or any act or omission in public administration in any sphere of government, that is alleged to be prejudicial or improper, or to result in any impropriety or prejudice.
The term “Ombudsman” is a gender-neutral, Swedish word that refers to an officer or office mandated to receive and redress complaints against public officers or entities. An Ombudsman is also a public officer.
In the Kenyan context, the Ombudsman handles an array of issues including the following:
- Maladministration (improper public administration): service failure, delay, inaction, inefficiency, ineptitude, discourtesy, incompetence and unresponsiveness in public offices.
- Administrative Injustice: the Commission promotes compliance with fair administrative action including expeditious, efficient, reasonable and procedurally fair action, and an entitlement to written reasons for such action.
- Misconduct and Integrity Issues: the Commission investigates improper conduct, abuse of power and misbehaviour in public service.
Through this, the Commission administratively reviews official conduct and redresses administrative injustice.
The Office of the Ombudsman implements its mandate in line with the following principles.
- Openness and transparency,
- Neutrality and impartiality,
- Confidentiality, and
Any person can lodge a complaint on their own behalf or on behalf of another person. Additionally, a complaint may be lodged by a Member of the National Assembly.
No. It is a criminal offense to obstruct, threaten or victimise a complainant or an officer of the Commission. Any person so doing is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding Sh500,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or both.
Complaints can be made by:
- Visiting of the Commission offices (Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, and Eldoret) in person;
- Calling toll free number, 0800221349;
- Calling 020 2270000;
- Texting short code number, 15700 (Safaricom Subscribers);
- Writing a letter through P. O. Box 20414, 00200, Nairobi;
- Writing an email to email@example.com;
- Visiting any of the following Huduma Centres: Kakamega, Nyeri, Embu, Kajiado, Nakuru, Eldoret, Kisii, Mombasa, Kisumu and Nairobi (Teleposta Towers);
- Filling an online complaint form on our website (www.ombudsman.go.ke); and
- Visiting any of the following offices: Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission Office in Nyeri, Kenya National Commission on Human Rights Offices in Wajir and Kitale, and National Anti-Corruption Campaign Steering Committee Office in West Pokot (Sebit). This happens under the Integrated Public Complaints Referral Mechanism (Sema Piga Ripoti) platform.
- His/her particulars, unless the complaint is anonymous.
- Details of the public institution/officer complained against.
- Information whether the same complaint has been lodged with the Ombudsman before, or with other entities, or if the matter is in Court.
- A clear, factual and concise brief on the complaint. Besides the letter detailing the issue, a complainant is required to give any available supporting documents.
- If the complainant has made attempts to resolve the issue with the relevant authority, he/she needs to indicate what happened and reasons for dissatisfaction with the outcome.
- The remedy being sought.
If a complainant is unhappy with the outcome of the case, he/she can call the case officer to discuss his/her concerns. However, if unsatisfied with their explanation, the complainant can contact their supervisor with the possibility of escalating the matter to the Commission Chairperson.
Yes! If one wishes to complain about a specific officer, he/she should ask to speak with their supervisor. For more general complaints about the office, or matters relating to procedures or policies, fill the online complaint form available on www.ombudsman.go.ke, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Commission pays close attention to all suggestions and complaints received about its services. Feedback may also be in form of compliments.
No. However, in appropriate cases, the Ombudsman may seek to be enjoined as a friend of the Court or interested party.
Yes. There are a number differences as stipulated below.
- The Ombudsman primarily addresses improper administration by public officers and offices, and does not admit complaints against private entities and persons. The Courts on the other hand adjudicate on all disputes within the law.
- In handling complaints arising from an administrative action, the Ombudsman goes beyond looking at the process to interrogate the soundness of the decision, while the Courts will, through judicial review, examine the decision making process.
- Ombudsman processes are free of charge to all citizens while Courts sometimes require filing fees.
- Ombudsman processes are flexible while Court processes tend to be rigidly defined by legislation, regulations and practice.
- Ombudsman processes are often informal and generally more expeditious while Court cases are always formal.
- In undertaking inquiries, Ombudsman processes are inquisitorial (can seek and obtain evidence directly) while Court processes are adversarial (rely on evidence presented).
- While Courts do not act on their own motion (suo motu), the Ombudsman can undertake an own motion inquiry.
- The range of outcomes available as remedial action for the Ombudsman is broader and wider than that available in Court.
- The Ombudsman’s mandate is broad and includes matters that are ordinarily unsuitable for court action (Such as rudeness and ineptitude) whereas judicial authority cannot be exercised over all matters.
- While Courts are bound by statutes of limitation and principles of precedence, the Ombudsman is not similarly bound and has greater latitude in remedying administrative wrongs.
Yes. Even if the position of a complainant is not upheld, the Ombudsman and the authority involved may examine the circumstances which led to the complaint. For instance, whereas the authority’s actions may have been correct, inquiries or investigations into the complaint(s) lodged may reveal the need, say, to provide more information about its policies to clients to avoid confusion.
The Ombudsman keeps records of complaints on different authorities and this helps in identifying patterns which may point to systemic problems, which if addressed will lead to changes in an authority’s policies or procedures and consequently, improved service. Therefore, stop lamenting and start complaining.