City of Joburg Ombud needs teeth
The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) has called on the City of Johannesburg to strengthen a draft by-law to ensure that the City’s Ombudsman’s Office has sufficient power to enforce decisions.
The City is drafting a new by-law for the Ombud’s Office and OUTA submitted comment on this during the public consultation period. The Ombud’s Office itself ran the public consultation process.
The Ombud’s Office was established through a by-law in 2014. The draft by-law under consideration will replace that by-law.
“OUTA is of the view that it is not a bad idea to have a quasi-judicial body geared towards encouraging a responsive, accountable and efficient City administration. However, that body has to have the power and the mechanisms to enforce its decisions,” says Asavela Kakaza, OUTA Legal Project Manager.
Kakaza says the Ombud’s Office needs to have the power to ensure more significant consequences in cases of non-compliance. The City should not have a choice in whether or not to implement the Ombud’s decisions. This is missing in the current by-law.
“There is no clear indication of what the office is capable of doing,” says Kakaza.
Penalties for failing to comply with the by-law are proposed as a fine of a maximum of R20 000 and/or imprisonment of a maximum of six months. “In order to serve as a deterrence, it is our submission that the fine be increased and the number of months for the term of imprisonment be also increased,” says Kakaza.
OUTA is concerned that the Office of the Ombudsman has been in existence since 2015 – and funded on the City of Johannesburg budget since then – but does not publicly seem to have achieved much. The budget for 2023/24 is about R46 million.
The Ombud’s Office does not appear to have issued any reports. Its website (see here) lists just six statements issued in eight years. The City of Johannesburg’s annual report for 2021/22 (see here) records that the Office registered 897 complaints during the year, resolved 633, and ran outreach programmes reaching 2846 residents. It does not indicate how the complaints were resolved, but notes as key challenges the “lack of understanding of the role of the Ombudsman” and the “Low responsiveness of City’s Entities on the lodged complaints”. Previous annual reports do not report on the office.
Administration in the Ombud’s Office seems problematic: when OUTA e-mailed its submission to the two e-mail addresses provided in the request for comment, it bounced back from both addresses. There was no answer to telephone calls to the office.
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