OUTA has urged the City of Johannesburg to strengthen a proposed by-law, granting the City's Ombudsman's Office the necessary authority to enforce its decisions. OUTA submitted comments on this by-law during the public consultation period, a process overseen by the Ombud's Office itself. But why is this important? 

The Ombud's Office came into existence through a by-law in 2014, and the draft by-law currently under consideration will replace that by-law.

While OUTA acknowledges the value of having a quasi-judicial body aimed at promoting a responsive, accountable, and efficient City administration, we say such a body must possess the necessary power and mechanisms to enforce its decisions."

There is a critical need for the Ombud's Office to be endowed with the authority to impose more substantial consequences in cases of non-compliance. The City should not have the option of disregarding or delaying the implementation of the Ombud's decisions, a crucial element that seems to be missing in the current by-law.

It must also be noted that the existing by-law fails to provide a clear indication of the scope of the Ombud's Office's authority. 

In the current draft, penalties for non-compliance with the by-law are proposed as a fine of up to a maximum of R20,000 and/or imprisonment for a maximum of six months. OUTA recommends increasing the fine and extending the length of imprisonment to serve as a more effective deterrent.

We have concerns about the apparent lack of tangible outcomes from the Office of the Ombudsman, despite being funded from the City of Johannesburg budget since its establishment in 2015. The budget allocation for 2023/24 stands at approximately R46 million.

The Ombud's Office seems to have limited public impact, with virtually no issued reports available. Its website (see here) lists only six statements released over the span of eight years. The City of Johannesburg's annual report for 2021/22 indicates here that the Ombud's Office registered 897 complaints during the year, resolved 633 of them, and conducted outreach programs that reached 2,846 residents. However, the report does not clarify the resolution methods for these complaints, and it highlights challenges such as the "lack of understanding of the role of the Ombudsman" and the "low responsiveness of City's Entities to lodged complaints." Past annual reports do not provide detailed information about the office's activities.

The administration of the Ombud's Office appears to be encountering problems, as evident from OUTA's submission. When OUTA sent its input to the two provided email addresses as part of the comment process, both emails bounced back, and telephone calls to the office remained unanswered.

OUTA’s submission is here.