Published On: Sat, Jul 16th, 2022

Ombudsman Mossel: “You cannot use capacity as an excuse all the time”

PHILIPSBURG — Ombudsman Gwendolien Mossel was highly critical of the Parliament and the Ministry of Public Housing, Urban Planning, Environment and Infrastructure (VROMI) during an interview with Oral Gibbes on his TV-program Oral Gibbes Live.

“In 2019 we addressed the problems with capacity and expertise at the ministry of VROMI. We see now that they are not able to respond to the public in a timely manner or they answer not at all. In 2020 we addressed the parliament with the request to do something about this. We are now in 2022 and we see an increase in complaints against the VROMI-ministry. We have had 66 complaint and half of them are attributed to VROMI.”

The Ombudsman said that the problems at the ministry have to do with a lack of leadership, guidance and policy. “That is the cause of not working effectively and efficiently. We have addressed this in 2019 and we are now in 2022. What we see is the result of the parliament not doing anything about it. It is very difficult to get responses and that is not fair to the public.”

With VROMI-Minister Doran’s observation that the Ombudsman-investigation into the solid waste collection-tender was incomplete and unbalanced (while the report found that the tender was unfair and not transparent) in mind, interviewer Gibbes started the interview with the question: “Are you making a lot of trouble?”

Mossel laughed. “Some call it trouble, others are saying you are doing a good job, so continue. I am doing what I was appointed to do.”

Mossel emphasized that the office of the Ombudsman is there to assist the parliament with its supervisory role. “It is our job to investigate complaints from the public. We make a report and send it to parliament. It is up to the parliament to look at the report and to hold the respective ministers accountable, to make sure that they execute the recommendations.”

When Gibbes suggested that politicians experience the Ombudsman as “a pain” Mossel noted that the office of the Ombudsman is under threat in several countries. “When they are in parliament they praise the Ombudsman but when they are in the executive branch they change. They see the Ombudsman as a pain, as being difficult.”

This is not how Mossel sees the role of her office. “We are a critical friend. We are here to assist. It is just about promoting good governance, but it is never easy.”

The Ombudsman, who took office as the successor of Nilda Arduin in 2019, pointed out that her office investigates propriety: “Is what the government is doing toward the public proper? We base our findings on international standards of proper conduct for good administration.”

When the Ombudsman releases a report, like the systemic investigation into the tender for solid waste collection, it is up to the parliament to do its due diligence and to take action. But that does not always (or almost never) happen.

“In 2019 we addressed the problems with the lack of capacity and expertise at the VROMI-ministry. But like with many of our reports, if the parliament had done its due diligence we would have been further along right now and a lot of things would have been dealt with.”

Mossel was quite clear about the solid waste tender-investigation. “We approached the minister and asked questions but he was reluctant. Things went back and forth. We asked to file certain documents at our office, but instead the minister offered these documents for review. We had to go to his office and look at them. That is not the same as submitting documents to the Ombudsman. We said that we needed a complete file. When we finally received it we found things that resulted in our decision to start a systemic investigation. We held hearings with the evaluation committee, cabinet members, heads of departments, the minister and his secretary-general. It appeared that we had not received the complete file.”

The terms of reference for the solid waste collection-tender where hastily put together. “That is one of the bottlenecks,” Mossel said. “They were pressed for time and everything went very fast. But you cannot use capacity problems as an excuse all the time. This is where the parliament comes in. In my opinion, you do with what you have and you do what you have to do.”

Mossel said that her office had given Minister Doran three weeks to react to the preliminary report about the tender. The minister took eight weeks to respond. While Doran claimed that the investigation was incomplete and unbalanced, Mossel notes that he did not indicate what was incomplete. “But our report is clear. It is based on facts, but important documents were not provided, like those that have to do with post-awarding, even though that is also part of the process. The minister claims that he has given us all information but that is not so. We have done the investigation and we have the facts and the documents to back them up.”

The next step is in the hands of parliament. “They have to deal with accountability. If they do not do their due diligence, then that is it. I am not going into a political back and forth. These are our findings and it is up to parliament to do something with them. If the parliament does not act then all we have is a report.”


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