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Limits of Ombudsman point to potential abuse

Does anyone remember the introduction of the Office of Ombudsman?

I do, and also remember that it came at the advice of the British Foreign Office and not because of any evolution of government consciousness on our end. In fact, I can clearly remember Dame Lois Browne Evans’s opposition to the ombudsman idea, saying “That is what the courts are for”.

Well we do have now, by happenstance, the Office of Ombudsman and are perhaps better because of it.

I am sure many persons have benefited who, before the creation of the office, would not have had the means to report, let alone challenge the actions of government. Yet how effective is the office and its practices, given that it was developed somewhat because of compliance issues and not as the benevolence or a cause for trust and accountability of leadership? Is not the benefit of having such office compromised, if its determinations and recommendations have no legal weight? Truthfully, isn’t it a manipulation of its function when a government can arbitrarily choose matters that support its agenda, then bypass, ignore and even go against those rulings and recommendations made by the Ombudsman, which favour the complainant?

The independence of the Ombudsman’s office is dependent on whether or not it has power. If you are searching for an example, take the proactive action on the highly controversial Corporation of Hamilton, then the inaction for the numerous clients of the highly controversial, failed British American.

Looking at the legislation that was created, it would seem by lay observation that there are teeth. However, for the unlearned eye, maybe there are some fine print or convoluted clauses that claw back powers perceived to have been given.

When we examine the position of the general public and their vulnerability to be abused by large corporations or a government, we have to add the policy of the Bar Association, which has not supported the idea of legal cases funded through contingency arrangements between lawyer and client.

Add the limits of the Ombudsman to the constraints for making an arrangement with lawyers and it points to a fairly grim picture of potential abuse for the general public. Putting it mildly, we are far away from the world of justice for the disadvantaged victims, which was intended when Bermuda was encouraged to develop the Office of Ombudsman.

It is this dark corner of Bermuda that adds to the bitterness and resentment felt by too many, particularly since it seems as one demographic is the recipient of the bad end of the stick. The people without means are truly without means, while the powerful are left protected and systemically screwing the poor under this picture.