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In addition to Consultative Committees for each Ministry, Parliament has another range of Committees, some intended to facilitate administration, others supposed to contribute to the core functions of Parliament. Amongst these last is the Committee on Public Petitions, related to the work of the Ombudsman, who is officially called the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration. He is supposed, on behalf of Parliament, to look into administrative injustices, and ensure redress.

Unfortunately the Ombudsman has not been especially effective in Sri Lanka. Initially direct access to him was not permitted, and the public had to present petitions to Parliament, which could either deal with these themselves, or send them to the Ombudsman. Later it was decided that the public could access him direct. In both cases however the problem is that the Ombudsman has no statutory powers. He can only report to Parliament, which then has to take action. Since however action has to be taken with regard to Ministries, and since many Ministers – or their officials – are unwilling to have their actions reversed, remedial action is often not possible.

An imaginative Ombudsman could sometimes achieve a compromise, using the threat of invoking adverse procedures in Parliament to persuade officials to offer some sort of redress. But this requires close knowledge of the system, which most holders of the position have not possessed. Thus, while petitions continue to come in abundance to Parliament, these too do not often lead to petitioners being satisfied that justice has been done.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

July 2011
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