Europe, Australia and Pacific, North America, Latin America and Africa had established Regional Ombudsman Associations, but Asia the most populous having about 65% population, yet really had no such forum and was lacking a regional organization. This was a glaring void for a continent blessed with unlimited bounties of nature and a region so important not only in geopolitical terms, but also with fast emerging economies that have focused the world attention. Many countries in the region had rich experience to impart and others were keen to develop their system to meet the needs of their people.
2. So the idea of Commonwealth Ombudsman Association was floated in the Fifth International Ombudsman Conference held in Vienna, Austria (October 11-16, 1992). Although, the Commonwealth Secretariat promised to extend every possible help and cooperation, yet response from the member countries was not very encouraging. In 1995, during the meeting of the Board of Directors of International Ombudsman Institute (IOI), it was repeatedly stressed that Asia should also organize a Regional Body. So in view of China’s support which had already been ensured, the then Wafaqi Mohtasib Ombudsman of Pakistan made a commitment to renew the efforts.
A. FIRST CONFERENCE OF ASIAN OMBUDSMEN, 1996 FORMATION OF ASSOCIATION
3. Pakistan, in 1996, convened the First Conference of the Asian Ombudsmen and the office holders of Ombudsman like institutions from all over the Continent. The main objectives for hosting the moot in which forty delegates from eighteen countries participated, were the promotion of Ombudsman’s concept and discussion on possibility for setting up of an Asian Ombudsman Association (AOA). Despite the differences of race, religion, culture, forms of governments, pace of development etc, Allah the Almighty, in His infinite mercy, crowned the Conference with success and the Asian Ombudsman Association (AOA) was unanimously founded at 12:00 hrs on April 16, 1996, in Islamabad, Pakistan. A Preparatory Committee for framing of Bye-Laws for the Association was constituted. The Ombudsman of Pakistan was elected as its Convenor and the Ombudsmen or similar office holders of China, Iran, Hong Kong (China), Korea and Sri Lanka as Members of the Committee.
4. It is a unique honour for Pakistan that the Ombudsman Association was founded in this country. The Headquarters of Association was also decided to be established at Islamabad. It was long overdue that Asian Ombudsmen had organized a permanent structure to deal with the growing crisis of confidence and performance as we reached the threshold of a new political and economic era. The world has moved into the new millennium. Knowing, that the 21st century will see the transfer of resources of Asia and will become century of Asia politically, economically, socially and culturally, the Asian Ombudsman Association shall provide a forum for the moral foundations and protections of a just society in the Region.
4. (1) The Association shall be independent, non-political, democratic and professional body.
(2) It is formed for the following objectives:
(a) To promote the concepts of Ombudsmanship and to encourage its development in Asia.
(b) To develop professionalism in discharge of the functions as Ombudsman.
(c) To encourage and support study and research regarding the institution of Ombudsman.
(d) To sponsor training and educational programmes for the institutions of Ombudsman in the region.
(e) To provide scholarships, fellowships, grants and other types of financial support to individuals for study relating to the institution of the Ombudsman.
(f) To collect, store, disseminate information and research data about the institution of Ombudsman.
(g) To facilitate exchange of information and experiences among the Ombudsmen of the region.
(h) To plan, arrange and supervise periodic conferences of the Ombudsmen of the Asian countries/regions.
(i) To undertake such other matters necessary to further the above objectives of the Association.
5. The Association shall comprise of — Voting Members, Associate Members, Honorary Life Members and individual Members. Besides the founding members of the Association who have a right to vote, others elected as members shall have a right of vote, subject to the condition that member(s) from a country shall have one vote.
6. The General Assembly shall consist of the voting members, which is to be called once a year by the President. It shall have the right:-
(a) to accept voting membership;
(b) to elect the members of the Board of Directors and one auditor;
(c) to fix the membership dues;
(d) to pass amendment in statute and basic organizational issues;
(e) to confer special honours on deserving persons.
(f) to approve reports of the Board of Directors and the auditor; and
(g) to decide venue of the next meeting of the members.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
7. The Board of Directors shall be elected by the General Assembly and consist of:
(a) The President.
(b) The Vice-President;
(c) The Treasurer;
(d) The Secretary; and
(e) Five voting members.
8. The Board’s responsibilities include:
(a) All matters in furtherance of the objectives of the Association including financial, not reserved for the General Assembly.
(b) The President shall represent the Association, convene the meetings of the Board of Directors and act as Chairman of Meeting.
(c) If the President is absent or otherwise prevented, he shall authorise any other Director to act on his behalf. The President shall be authorised to sign together with the treasurer all financial matters.
B. SECOND CONFERENCE: SEOUL, KOREA 1997
9. The Second Annual Conference of the Asian Ombudsman Association was held in Seoul, Korea on 25-26 March, 1997 wherein fifty delegates from Twenty-one countries participated. The representatives of International Ombudsman Institute (IOI) viz Dr. M. Oosting, President, Dr. D. Jacoby, Secretary General, Mr. Justice A. S. Salam, and Mr. Andrew SO Asian Regional Directors also participated.
10. The Bye-Laws Preparatory Committee met twice under the Chairmanship of Mr. Justice Abdul Shakurul Salam, Ombudsman of Pakistan. After due deliberations the Committee concluded that it should continue to consider the Bye-Laws which would be ready before Conference to be held in Macau in 1998. The Conference agreed on the following points:-
(a) The Association needs written Bye-Laws, the final version of which will be discussed by the Committee at a future date.
(b) The Association will pursue the goals and operate under the title “The Asian Ombudsman Association” as adopted at the 1st Asian Ombudsman Conference till Bye-Laws could be adopted.
(c) Mr. J. B. Choi, Ombudsman of Korea will act as Chief of the Association till the next Conference.
(d) In line with the agreement reached at the 1st Conference, the Association will hold its next Conference in Macau.
C. MEETING OF BYE-LAWS PREPARATORY COMMITTEE, 1997
11. Mr. Justice Abdul Shakurul Salam, the Convenor/Chairman convened the Meeting of Bye-Laws Preparatory Committee in Islamabad on 10-11 November, 1997 wherein delegates from China, Iran, Sri Lanka, Korea and Hong Kong (China) participated. The Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration of Sri Lanka, had since already communicated twice his suggestions for incorporation in the proposed Bye-laws; he did not attend the moot.
12. The participants discussed in detail all the articles and provisions suggested in the draft Bye-Laws. After a full debate a comprehensive draft of Bye-Laws was unanimously agreed for adoption by the Asian Ombudsman Association in its meeting scheduled to be held in Macau in 1998.
D. THIRD CONFERENCE: MACAU, 1998
13. During the 3rd Conference of the Asian Ombudsman Association (AOA) hosted by Macau from 3-8 May, 1998, the draft Bye-Laws framed by the Preparatory committee were adopted and approved as Bye-Laws of Asian Ombudsman Association(AOA). All the founding members signed that signify the acceptance and adoption of the Bye-Laws. Ombudsman of Pakistan, Mr. Justice (Retd) Abdul Shakurul Salam, as recognition of his tremendous contribution in the formation and sound development of AOA was elected as President of Asian Ombudsman Association (AOA).
14. The Ombudsmen of Sri Lanka, Prof. Bertram Bastiampillai, was elected as Vice-President, Mr. Chu Kwang Ill, Ombudsman of South Korea as Treasurer and Mr. Andrew SO, Ombudsman of Hong Kong (China) was as Secretary of the Association. Accordingly delegates of China, Macau, Iran, Japan and Philippines were elected as members of the Board of Directors.
15. During this Conference ten agreements of Intra-Institutional and Technical cooperation were signed between the High Commission Against Corruption And Administrative Illegality of Macau and the Ombudsmen of Pakistan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Canada (Quebec), Papua New Guinea, Punjab (Pakistan), Sindh (Pakistan), Mozambique, Azad Jammu & Kashmir, South Australian State.
E. FOURTH CONFERENCE: TEHRAN, IRAN, 1999
16. Fourth Conference of the Asian Ombudsman Association hosted by Islamic Republic of Iran from 9-14 May, 1999 was attended by forty-seven delegates from twenty one countries. The participants presented their papers and scholastic dissertations. Four working committees deliberated on the following subjects:
(1) The cause and effect of administrative grievances and the ways to prevent violation of rules in governmental administration;
(2) The role of Ombudsmen to safeguard citizens’ rights;
(3) The role of governments to supervise the proper conduct of affairs and the implementation of laws by the administrative organs; and
(4) Investigation of complaints and its legal, administrative, and social effects.
17. The Conference concluded with adoption of the Declaration as under:-
(1) Providing public enlightenment to create an appropriate culture of supervision and inspection.
(2) Inserting inspection related subject matters in curricula of different levels of school.
(3) Training public servants for law abidance and accountability.
(4) Establishing a training Centre in Asian, after being funded.
(5) Naming 1999 as the year of “Ombudsman and Training:, due to its importance.
(6) Granting scholarship to the experts and members of Ombudsman.
Exchange of information
(1) Establishing Ombudsman data bank in its Secretariat, classifying the information and serving AOA Members.
(2) Necessitating extensive research to explore an optional process for inspection and supervision.
(3) Expanding exchange of information and experiences amongst the members to fight against administrative corruption, especially against complex networks.
(4) Concluding bilateral/multilateral agreements to exchange the information required by Ombudsmen.
Growth of Inspection Culture
(1) Escalating public awareness on legal functions and status of Ombudsman through mass media.
(2) Identifying suitable patterns and strategies to enhance the culture of individual and social supervision.
18. The Conference made the following Recommendations:
(1) Ombudsmen must be autonomous and implementation of Ombudsman’s proposals should be guaranteed.
(2) Formalities should be eliminated and duration of exercising inspection and dealing with complaints should be minimized.
(3) Legal obstacles on the way to exercise inspection should be studied to suggest appropriate strategies.
(4) Cooperation against oppression and injustice in administration, especially against financial corruption, should be continuous.
F. MEETING OF BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF AOA, 2000
19. The President of the Association, Wafaqi Mohtasib (Ombudsman) of Pakistan, has convened the meeting of the Board of Directors on February 22-24, 2000 at Islamabad, the Agenda for which is as under:
(1) To identify and to adopt the executive strategies for recommendations of Fourth Conference which require extensive research, intellectual and material resources.
(2) To consider the Annual Financial Contribution and Membership Fee.
(3) To arrange human resources for running the Asian Ombudsman Association’s Secretariat.
(4) To approve Philippine’s offer for hosting Fifth Asian Ombudsman Association Conference in July 2000.
(5) To inaugurate Asian Ombudsman Association’s Headquarters, established by Pakistan in Islamabad.
G. 5Th ASIAN OMBUDSMAN CONFERENCE, HELD AT MANILA,
PHILIPPINES, FROM 17-21 FEBRURAY,2000.
20. 5th Conference of Asian Ombudsman Association, hosted by the Republic of the Philippines from 17-21 July 2000, was attended by 31 delegates from nineteen countries.
21. Scholastic dissertation, in-depth studies and thread baring discussions were held on important issues and problems confronted with Ombudsman and like institutions while redressing the public grievances, specifically with reference to Asian Region, in the Plenary Sessions and Panel Workshops conducted during three day’s conference. Conclusions arrived at and recommendations made by the panellists/speakers on different issues are as follows: –
Issue: The Ombudsman and the Economy.
1. The charter/s of the Ombudsman among Asian countries should be extended to economic matters.
2. There should be more transparency in decision making about the economy and governance.
3. Linkages and networking should be established between the Ombudsman offices and the economic agencies.
4. The AOA should conduct researches to know the success stories of the different Ombudsman offices, which shall serve as basis for improvement/policy directions.
Issue: The Ombudsman and Politics.
1. Reinforce the status of the Ombudsman as the fulcrum to ensure balance in the power structure of the state;
2. Maintenance of a high level of moral integrity and sense of probity among Ombudsman official to resist political influence and assaults designed to subvert the Ombudsman Institution;
3. Empowerment of the private sector like the non-governmental organization: the students and youth sector of the society, through the enlistment of their support in the campaign for good government;
4. Enlistment of media support in bringing to bear the force of public opinion upon political attempts to undermine the integrity and independence of the Ombudsman institution;
5. Strengthening the moral fibre of the society in general and the government and the component elements thereof.
Issue: The Ombudsman and the Judiciary.
Conclusion/Recommendations: – The Ombudsman and the judiciary can work hand-in-hand toward the promotion of transparency and accountability without infringing on each other’s independence. Therefore, each country must adopt its own system of check and balance between the judiciary and the Ombudsman to ensure that justice is effectively dispensed; and that indeed, no one is above the law.
Issue: The Ombudsman and the Bureaucracy.
Conclusion/Recommendation: – As one of the delegates aptly puts it, “ the Ombudsman is part of the bureaucracy.” If the Ombudsman and the Bureaucracy have to serve a common clientele, they have to work as partners in promoting the ideals of public service, protecting the rights of the people including the public servants and delivering quality public service imbued with accessibility, accountability, transparency and responsibility.
Issue: The Ombudsman and the Civil Society.
Conclusion/Recommendations: – The Ombudsman needs a clear mandate in order to meet the expectations of the people. It should be independent from government systems; flexible in the way it performs its functions, and adequately resourced in carrying out its mandate.
The effectiveness of the Ombudsman is dependent to some extent on the support of the people. There is need, therefore, to protect the crusaders who fight against graft and corruption in government.
Issue: International Cooperation and the Asian Ombudsman.
1. Formulation of laws against corruption at the international level;
2. Creation of International Criminal Court to try corrupt people and escaping offenders;
3. Promotion of cooperation among the member states, information periodicals and secondment of employees;
4. Employment technology for Technical Cooperation between the Asian and American Ombudsman as well as the other Ombudsman;
5. Applying information Technology between Asian Ombudsman and other countries;
6. Promotion of Mass Media Cooperation with different states;
7. Exchange of successful experience in the field of fighting corruption.
H. SIXTH CONFERENCE: TOKYO, JAPAN, 2001
The 6th Annual Conference of the Asian Ombudsman Association was held in Tokyo, Japan from 18.06.2001 to 21.06.2001. The Theme of the Conference was “Asian Ombudsman of the 21st Century”. The conference aimed at to recognize and look back at the past, the ideals of the Asian Ombudsman and to discuss how each Ombudsman’s uniqueness could help develop mutual cooperation amongst the Ombudsman countries for the future. The preliminary session of the Conference included three sub-themes under the main theme. The participants of the conference were divided into three forums. In depth discussion were held. Each member country made a presentation on the assigned sub-theme at the preliminary session from amongst the following sub-themes:-
i. “History and the Development of the Asian Ombudsman System”.
ii. “Reality and Ideals of the Asian Ombudsman”.
iii. “Uniqueness and Cooperation of the Asian Ombudsman”.