PUBLIC Protector Caroline Sokoni says her office has not received any official complaint over the leaked telephone conversation between two senior government officials.
And Sokoni says the Office of the Public Protector needs to be completely weaned off from the Executive and given the autonomy and powers that it requires.
Meanwhile, Justice Minister Mulambo Haimbe says government is seeing to it that treasury authority for the remaining positions in the establishment of the Office of the Public Protector is granted.
During a media briefing on the operations of the Office of the Public Protector, Thursday, Sokoni said if there was any maladministration regarding the issues discussed in the leaked audio, investigations should begin.
“The office instituted an investigation on the 1.2 billion dual carriageway. The investigations are still ongoing and we are still receiving submissions from various government departments. I would think that what really caused this whole project to stall was that the office was looking into it. So we are still looking into this matter. Apologies that sometimes the wheels of justice may be slow and we have not delivered as at yet,” Sokoni said.
“However, we will inform you when we are ready with a complete report. The issue of the leaked audio, we have not received any official complaint. We have also not initiated our own initiative investigation into this matter. Definitely, if there is any maladministration regarding the issues that were discussed in this leaked audio, it should come to our attention and we should begin investigations. But as of now, there is no investigation going on.”
Sokoni said the Executive needed to wean off the Office of the Public Protector so that the public can see its performance.
“The institution has thrived to live up to its mandate since 2016 when it replaced the Investigator General. The institution itself may have been there for a long time, but it is still relatively unknown among the general populace whose interest it was set out to protect. The transformation from the old system was to give the institution autonomy over the executive. As it is, all the operatives are from the old system,” she said.
“We have not really been given the autonomy and powers that we require, especially by the implementers. For people to know and have confidence, they must see us perform. The law has given us the mandate to protect people. We have been given the legislative mandate, but we have not been given the institutional mandate just yet. The Executive needs to wean us so that they give us our autonomy because it has not been given to us.”
And Sokoni said the office needed to amend the Public Protector Act to ensure that provisions for administrative autonomy were adequately provided for.
“After the Enactment of the Public Protector Act No. 15 of 2016, the Office of the Public Protector made efforts to engage the National Assembly seeking guidance on how the office can fully transition to being a Parliamentary Ombudsman. However, this engagement did not yield any positive results. The Office of the Public Protector further sought guidance from the Attorney General who guided that the relationship with Parliament was a legal relationship which could not be abrogated,” she said.
“With your support, we will engage Parliament again to ensure that standing orders are put in place so that a committee which will look at the investigative reports of the office of the Public Protector is in place. This is what is going to make the reporting mechanisms for the office to be clear. Further, the office needs to amend the Public Protector Act so as to ensure that provisions for administrative autonomy are adequately provided for.”
Sokoni added that the office needed to be delinked completely from the Executive so that the investigations of the institution could be completely independent of any interference.
“The conditions of service that are due to the office have actually not been implemented. So members of staff are still on civil service conditions of service. They are also appointed, demoted and everything that goes with it by the same civil service that they have to investigate. So there is an issue of actually delinking the office completely from the Executive so that the investigations of the institution can be completely independent from any interference from the Executive,” she said.
“The Office of the OPP is centrally located in Lusaka. This is despite the constitution under article 243 (3) providing for decentralisation of the office to provinces and progressively to districts. This situation has made it difficult for the office to fully service other provinces in terms of investigations due to inadequate human resource capacity. To achieve the decentralisation, there is need to fully grant the Treasury Authority for the entire structure and equally review the structure to cater for other core positions that have been identified.”
And Sokoni said government needed to increase budgetary allocation to the institution.
“The challenges being faced by the office in its general operations mostly hinge on the inadequate finances allocated to the institution. While the Treasury has continued rendering financial support to the institution to meet operational costs, there is still need for more support to help the office operate more effectively and be fully operational. The government in the 2022 budget has demonstrated its commitment to help the office become more efficient,” said Sokoni.
“The Office of the Public Protector is an important institution that requires adequate funding in order to execute its mandate effectively. There is need to significantly increase funding to the institution. We have been allocated K19,305,550 in the 2022 budget. These allocations consist of both Personal Emoluments (PEs) and Recurrent Departmental Charges (RDCs). However, the Office has seen an increase of 125 percent in the 2022 budgetary allocation. We believe more can be done especially if we are to decentralise the Provinces and fully execute our mandate.”
Meanwhile, Haimbe said government would see to it that the parliamentary service commission comes into effect so that all employees of the office of the public protector were employed and managed by the commission.
“I am very happy to inform you that in our first budget as government we have increased the funding allocation to the office of the public protector by 125 percent. We are committed to seeing this funding allocation increasing year by year so that we make the office more effective for it to serve its purpose. As an immediate and short measure, government is also seeing to it that treasury authority for the remaining positions in the establishment of the institution is granted. This will increase the capacity of the office in conducting timely investigations,” he said.
“Government will see to it that the parliamentary service commission comes into effect so that all employees of the office of the public protector are employed and managed by the commission. In this way they will be able to carry out their duties independently and professionally without any compromise. Further, standing orders which will see a parliamentary committee to preside over the reports of the public protector will be put in place. This committee is very important in ensuring that the investigative reports of the public protector are enforced.”
Haimbe said what was currently making the office of the public protector seem not to perform is lack of reporting mechanism.
“Currently what has made the office of the public protector seem not to perform is lack of reporting mechanism. There is no committee which scrutinizes the reports of the public proctor and ensures that culprits of maladministration found wanting by the public protector appear before it and account for their actions. The ideal situation should be as it is with the public accounts committee and reports of the auditor general,” said Haimbe.