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Ombudsmen face new challenges in ensuring fair treatment


Media release

November 12, 2012

Ombudsmen face new challenges in ensuring fair treatment

Natural disaster, public service cuts and private provision of public services are among the issues under scrutiny by Ombudsmen at this week’s World Conference in Wellington.

The conference, being hosted for the first time in New Zealand, will see about 280 Ombudsmen, National Human Rights Institutions and other integrity bodies descend on Wellington, with the public section of the meeting running from Wednesday (November 14) until Friday.

It is the 10th World Conference of the International Ombudsman’s Institute, which is currently chaired by New Zealand’s Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem. Dame Beverley is the first woman to chair the Institute and the third New Zealander to do so.

Dame Beverley says the conference’s title Speaking truth to power – the role of the Ombudsman in the 21st century reflects the challenges facing ombudsmen in today’s society.

“Expectations in our fast-moving world are high. Technology and social media are giving people a greater voice than ever before, and social, political and economic forces are effecting change from within – often not waiting for official processes to run their course.

“However, at the same time the global financial crisis, government austerity measures and natural disasters have created new groups of vulnerable people.

“Cuts to government services, and the shifting of public service delivery to private providers opens the door for corrupt practice and unreasonable decisions to occur,” she says.

Internationally ombudsmen themselves are facing the fear of budgetary constraints impacting on timely investigations at a time when complaints are on the rise and Ombudsmen are being asked to do more.

“What we are seeing is an increasing diversity of roles being given to Ombudsmen, and a need to rethink how to best apply the limited resources we have. This international forum is a chance for Ombudsmen from all corners of the world to debate and discuss these issues,” Dame Beverley says.

Wellington’s hosting of the World Conference also comes as New Zealand marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Office of the Ombudsman in this country.

Speakers at the conference include former New Zealand Prime Minister and Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme Rt Hon Helen Clark.

The conference topics will range from holding leaders to account through to looking at the challenges faced by ombudsmen in assisting communities suddenly finding themselves displaced through natural disasters such as the Christchurch and Great East Japan earthquakes and floods in Queensland.

A full copy of the programme is available at www.confer.co.nz/wcioi

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