News Articles | Press Releases
7th May 2008
In Praise of an Important Ally - the Ombudsman
BY STUART HAYWARD
Last week a rather extraordinary event took place in Bermuda.
Representatives from Caribbean Offices of the Ombudsman descended on the island for their Fifth Biennial Conference. I attended the first day and was impressed with the caliber of participants and the content of the conference. It's a credit to our own Ombudsman, Arlene Brock, that this august collection of public servants held its gathering here. Ms. Brock is a standout, and we are fortunate to have such an alert mind, energetic body and feisty temperament combined with a strong sense of justice in Bermuda's first Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman represents bottom line assistance to the public in dealing with government departments, agencies and appointees. The Civil Service is the conduit for the broad range of services that our government provides for its citizens. Members of the Civil Service have a lot of power and when that power is accidentally or spitefully abused it is the Ombudsman that the people can turn to for assistance and redress. I believe Bermuda has been well served by its Civil- and other public-servants. But it's at the times when that service slips that members of the public need help in getting a fair hearing.
What captured me most at the conference was the combination of intellectual brilliance and a dogged devotion to justice exhibited by the Ombudsmen and their related institutions. Whether it's the global effort to stop children being exploited in warfare or local steps to remedy the run-around given to seniors or homeless people, Ombudsmen are there to assist the process of assistance.
The most moving aspect for me was the inward look Ombudsmen were taking at themselves, their roles and their procedures. This genuine holding up of a mirror to one's own practice is a powerful tool and guide for giving good service. One speaker described the moral compass her office derived from a quote by E.F. Schumacher, author of one of my most favoured books, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered: "We must do what we conceive to be the right thing. And not bother our heads or burden our souls about whether it will be successful. Because if we don't do the right thing we will be doing the wrong thing. And we will just be part of the disease and not part of the cure." This is not only a useful compass for Ombudsmen, but also for fellow activists, and leaders in every sphere.
Of course some of us feel that Bermuda's Ombudsman should be authorised to keep tabs on the delivery of services from MPs and Cabinet Ministers. At the conference, however, I got the sense that for Ombudsmen not to have this level of power wasn't all bad. For one thing, it virtually removed the possibility that an Ombudsman might become partisan in his/her approach, which would not be a good thing. (I must say, however, that the spectacle I witnessed was of Ombudsmen pursuing policy and practice devoid of the partisan or the personal.) Even worse is the risk that an Ombudsman might be accused of partisanship merely as a ruse to deflect a legitimate investigation or divert attention from a legitimate report.
Such wrangling could clog the process and impede the real good that an Ombudsman can do. Not a good idea. Beside the pride I felt in our own Ombudsman and her office, I experienced a sense of relief that there is a growing cadre, in our region and around the world, of individuals and groups who will be champions for ordinary citizens in their entitlement to fair, timely and just treatment in our dealings with our governments. That's good news.
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7th November 2007
Who's Running our Hospital?
Report shows political interference has grown since 1998. Black and white medics split on influential role of ‘powerful black doctor’
Political interference is a growing problem at the hospital, an eye-opening report has revealed.
The level of interference has increased since the PLP came to power in 1998 and whites in particular - but also some blacks - say the Bermuda Hospitals Board has become a mere rubber stamp for decisions imposed on it.
Some medics feel that politicians should butt out and leave the day to day running of the hospital to board members. The investigation, carried out by Government ombudsman Arlene Brock also found that an unnamed "powerful black doctor" had intervened in the affairs of the hospital, including sending persistent e-mails about a clinical matter that a chief of staff found intimidating.
The "intimidation effect" of the e-mails "overshadowed their important message that all incidents should be treated equally," the report said. The revelations raise questions about who's running the show at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital. The report into allegations of racism at KEMH, which was carried out by the Government ombudsman and made public last week, did not speak to that.
It said that whites were more likely than blacks to be bothered by the degree of political interference. Blacks interviewed by the ombudsman believed that there would be no need for anyone to exert political pressure if KEMH "had followed a rigorous, transparent, fair and credible system for addressing clinical concerns."
The report, A Tale of Two Hospitals, which was tabled in Parliament on Friday, found that race was the dominant and most divisive issues affecting relationships among doctors at KEMH, primarily surgeons and anaesthetists in the operating room. Whites and blacks had starkly different views of the same situation.
The report said there was "a seismic shift" in the political power structure nine years ago. White Bermudians in particular "seem to be experiencing some dislocation." Whites interviewed complained that the problems at KEMH were not really about race, "but rather about an insidious, growing, political interference with the BHB that seeps throughout the hospital."
They believed that the powerful black doctor was the person behind the complaints and that it was his way of getting back at the white power elite who is widely believed to have unfairly denied him entry into the profession years ago. The report said there is no evidence that "his keen interest in matters involving the hospital stem from such matters." Some blacks the ombudsman spoke to believe that black doctors on work permits who are the powerful black doctor's friends may be targeted by the white medical elite, not because of race, but because they are his friends.
Although the report said examples given of political interference were not clear cut, it also gave three examples that it was able to confirm. It also said a few board members "have also expressed discomfort with the amount of current political interference." Blacks were also quoted in the report as saying the Hospitals Board is run "autocratically" and that "the political influence is greater now that ever before."
Ms Brock told the Bermuda Sun yesterday: "It is a thing that whites in particular believe is a major point of tension. Instead of focusing on the rationale put forward (for political interference) they see this as just political influence." She said it underscored the need for KEMH to have proper procedures in place.
Ms Brock declined to reveal the identity of the doctor, saying the purpose of her investigation was not to name individual people, but to bring about systemic change. The report had 15 recommendations. Asked whether issues of race had compromised patient care at KEMH, Ms Brock said: "I have concerns because of the failure of learning and because of the tensions."
She said racial tensions and lack of "collegiality" on the part of doctors had occurred mainly in the Department of Surgery. "I did not hear complaints during the interview process of enormous tensions on the wards and the emergency rooms," she said.
She said if the hospital puts in place policies to govern its medical practices-and she is confident it will do so- "we will elevate the way medicine is practised and we will elevate the learning (of doctors) from each other."
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7th March 2007
Morning greeting will NOT be linked to performance
LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Arlene Brock, Ombudsman for Bermuda, responds to the February 28 article in the Bermuda Sun headlined, 'Good morning could become obligatory for civil servants'.
The unfortunate title of this article is almost as erroneous as its content. I have never heard of or stated that 'linking usage of morning greetings to civil service performance' is an option anywhere in the world.
I did note that in the process of developing a Bermudian definition for what constitutes "maladministration", one might look at things like nepotism and even the very Bermudian concern about manners. For instance, do civil servants respond with the same degree of service to members of the public who did not approach the civil servant with a greeting?
The interview included my discussions with attorneys about the idea of Apology Legislation. This legislation has been introduced into Australia and British Columbia and is regarded by Ombudsmen around the world as quite important because a simple apology is often the best redress for maladministration.
It is possible that the reporter misheard or incorrectly inferred that this legislation - a legal reinforcement of simple manners -also applied to the morning greeting.
I had hoped that the article would have highlighted some of the weighty matters in the office's First Annual Report - such as the fact that the international Ombudsman network had succeeded in obtaining the death certificate of a Bermudian missionary murdered in the Sudan when all other efforts, including diplomatic, had failed.
Ombudsman for Bermuda
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The Royal Gazette
9th March 2009
Ombudsman Upbeat about Hospital's Progress
BY TIM SMITH
The campaign to tackle racism at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital has been so successful, Bermuda could be a model for the rest of the world, according to Ombudsman Arlene Brock.
Ms Brock says Bermuda Hospitals Board is moving swiftly to address all but one of the 15 recommendations in her damning 'A Tale Of Two Hospitals' report which highlighted a hospital environment plagued by racism in 2007.
Giving an update on progress in her 2008 annual report, the Ombudsman states: "Contrary to some fears, this report did not languish on a shelf. Although one person complained that the changes are not sufficient and another complained that the changes have gone too far, neither presented persuasive evidence of bad faith on the part of BHB. I remain heartened that the steps being taken will lead to enduring and substantial change in the culture of professional interdependence and collegiality at KEMH."
A new study by the National Health Service in the UK recently revealed black and minority ethnic staff are grossly under-represented among senior management but disproportionately involved in disciplinary, grievances, bullying and harassment cases and capability reviews. Ms Brock states: "Bermuda has the potential to become a model."
In her 2007 report, the Ombudsman described racism as a major divisive force at the hospital, which she said was plagued by a climate of rumour, innuendo and conjecture. Recommendations completed include a review of the Department of Anaesthesia and hiring of a BHB anaesthetist; review and rationalise its own structures and operations to strengthen its independence and leadership; clarify qualification equivalencies between different jurisdictions; designate a top level person to be trained in and carry out ongoing reports on race, gender and other issues.
The recommendation on which BHB's efforts were not accepted was that the hospital should augment its major clinical incident policy to ensure a clear, accessible and confidential procedure in a separate complaints department. Progress is being made on all the other recommendations.
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The Royal Gazette
28th April 2008
Bermuda Welcomes Caribbean Ombudsmen
BY SAM STRANGEWAYS
Ombudsmen from all over the world arrived in Bermuda yesterday to take part in a week-long conference on good governance.
Steel drums heralded the arrival of guests from as far afield as South Africa and Denmark at the welcome ceremony of the Caribbean Ombudsman Association's (CAROA) fifth biennial regional conference at the Fairmont Hamilton last night.
Bermuda — which got its own Ombudsman in 2005 — is hosting the conference for the first time and the public is invited to attend today to hear about the role of ombudsmen elsewhere around the globe. Olara Otunnu — a former UN special representative for children of armed conflict — will be the lunchtime keynote speaker at 12.30 p.m. The Ugandan, who now lives in the States, became the first World's Children's Ombudsman in 2006 at the request of the World's Children's Prize for the Rights of the Child, an organisation based on the UN Child Convention and aimed at strengthening the voices of children.
This week's conference will also hear from M.L. Mushwana, the public protector for the Republic of South Africa, and Baroness Rennie Fritchie, the former UK Commissioner for public appointments. Other countries represented include Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Cayman, Curaçao, Denmark, Gibraltar, Guatemala, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos and the US.
Governor Sir Richard Gozney welcomed the international guests and suggested their role was one of "humanising administrative practice". He joked that the public in Bermuda was largely assured of good service from civil servants because of the size of the Island and the fact that most people are related or know one another. "If you are insensitive and it turns out you have been talking to a senior member of your in-laws' family you are going to hear about it," he said. On a more serious note, he said Ms Brock had already produced a couple of reports highlighting the need for an ombudsman to represent the interests of the public in their dealings with government.
The conference begins at the Fairmont Hamilton today at 8.45 a.m. with an opening address from Premier Ewart Brown.
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The Royal Gazette
7th April 2008
Brock Traces History of the Ombudsman
BY TIM SMITH
Ombudsman Arlene Brock has given a talk on the history of the institution to senior figures in Turks and Caicos.
Ms Brock — who has researched how Ombudsmen have operated across the world over the years — delivered her speech on a visit at the request of Turks and Caicos' complaints commissioner Sadie Jean Williams. It followed a two-week visit by Mrs. Williams to Ms Brock's office in December 2006.
During her presentation, Ms Brock outlined the 200-year evolution of Ombudsmen, highlighting the principles of independence and fairness. The first Ombudsman post was created in Sweden in 1809 to safeguard the rights of citizens, but it was many decades before such roles became commonplace. Ms Brock became Bermuda's first Ombudsman in 2005. Her visit included talks with Turks and Caicos Governor Richard Tauwhare, the Deputy Governor, Attorney General, Speaker of the House of Assembly and Leader of the Opposition among others. It was supported by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
From April 27 to May 3, Mrs. Williams will be in Bermuda for the fifth Biennial Conference of the Caribbean Ombudsman Association. The Fairmont Hamilton event will be attended by 37 Ombudsmen and scholars from around the world, including ten from the Caribbean as well as Canada, Costa Rica, Denmark, Gibraltar, Honduras, Netherlands, South Africa, Uganda, the UK and the US.
Monday, April 28, will explore the foundations of good governance and is open to the public. For the programme and registration, call the Ombudsman's office on 296-6541 or visit www.ombudsman.bm.
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The Royal Gazette
14th February 2008
Caribbean Ombudsmen to hold Bermuda meeting
BY TIM SMITH
People will get the chance to hear experts' views on good governance at a Caribbean Ombudsman Association conference being hosted in Bermuda.
Ombudsman Arlene Brock says the event is a coup for the Island as it features a string of impressive speakers including her counterparts from across the region.The public is invited to a day-long session — part of the five-day conference — at the Fairmont Hamilton Princess on Monday, April 28.
Speakers at April's conference include Commonwealth Secretariat Deryck Brown; former Commonwealth Secretariat Victor Ayeni, who will speak about administrative justice as a human right; former UK commissioner for public appointments Baroness Rennie Fritchie on ethics in the public sector; UK parliamentary commissioner Ann Abraham on principles of good administration; Ontario ombudsman Andre Martin on the role of the ombudsman as a watchdog; and Sheffield University's Richard Kirkham on comparative ombudsman jurisprudence.
Later in the week, topics will include the role of the ombudsman, apology legislation, handling anxious and resistant behaviour from complainants and public bodies, whistleblowing protection and freedom of information.
Opening comments will come from Premier Ewart Brown, who has repeatedly declined to respond when asked for his thoughts on public access to information (PATI) as part of The Royal Gazette's A Right To Know: Giving People Power campaign.
The Premier, under whose leadership PATI has dropped from the forefront of the Progressive Labour Party's agenda, has declared his support for good governance outside Government by announcing plans to modernise the Corporations of Hamilton and St. George's.
Dr. Brown has also pledged to introduce a press council to regulate Bermuda's newspapers — a move which some have suggested could lead to censorship and control of the media. However, despite calls for Government to lead by example by improving its own accountability and transparency, Dr. Brown kept PATI, whistleblower protection and anti-corruption legislation out of his Throne Speech earlier this month.
Calling for people to attend the opening day of the event, Ms Brock said: "We have a stellar group of speakers who are coming. It promises to be a dynamic conference. It will be interesting for members of the public to hear them.
"Having one of these people would have been a coup. We have all these people on one day, so I'm excited about that."
Ms Brock's calls for greater transparency within some Government departments, outlined in her annual report for 2007, are entirely independent of this newspaper's A Right To Know campaign.
Do you think Government should look at improving its own accountability as well as focusing on that of the Corporations of Hamilton and St. George's and the media? E-mail email@example.com, or call 278-0155 or 278-8359.
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The Royal Gazette
11th February 2008
Opening up: Arlene Brock
BY TIM SMITH
Despite what some people in certain Government departments might think, Arlene Brock isn't an ogre.
But any public bodies who think the Ombudsman is going to ease off from ruffling feathers in her quest for greater accountability have got another thought coming.
Ms Brock — whose 2007 annual report called out a number of Government branches for a lack of responsiveness and transparency — goes about her business with one ideal at the forefront of her mind: public bodies must serve the public. And that's the message she'll continue to press home, particularly when her own attempts to do just that are hampered by the very unresponsiveness she's trying to combat.
"I do remind folks that the public pay all of our salaries. Therefore, one of our jobs is to serve the public," she told The Royal Gazette.
She argues this newspaper was over-the-top to describe her report as "hard-hitting", although the Department of Planning — whose head Trevor Leach filed a lengthy response to her criticisms last week — may disagree. It was Planning which attracted the most Ombudsman complaints during 2006-07, with Ms Brock pointing to the department's reluctance to keep people informed or accept its own mistakes.
On one occasion it wrongly blamed a junior member of staff rather than put its hands up to an error. The Ombudsman can empathise with the public's frustration, as while investigating the department's failings she found her own telephone calls and emails going unanswered. Regarding these difficulties, she said: "When there are delays in responsiveness to us, I begin to feel guilty that we are perpetuating the disservice to the complainants. That makes me very concerned. "When the complainant comes to us, they are at the end of the rope. I can't double that concern on their part. That's why I tend to appreciate getting more timely responses."
Problems within the Planning Department were not immediately obvious when Ms Brock was appointed Bermuda's first Ombudsman in 2005. "In the first year of the Ombudsman, everyone is learning," she said. "I did not interpret any delay or apparent resistance as a problem of the department. I thought it part and parcel of learning about a new institution and how it works. However, by the summer of 2006, I had become aware that within the department my constant questioning had ruffled some feathers. I thought it would be helpful to try and offer each person in the department an opportunity to meet the Ombudsman, so they would understand I was not an ogre and to understand the role of the Ombudsman. That was helpful, and Bermuda Public Services Union kindly facilitated that. I do appreciate that at the department there has been some instability in terms of leadership until last spring, when a new full-time director came in place. It was difficult for acting folks to move toward a resolution. Quite a number of issues were delayed. It entailed my habit of having to re-explain things several times. I kept a record of how many phone calls, e-mails or other letters went out with respect to each particular complaint. There were repeated calls where I had to indicate I had to receive a response. I believe that that is being addressed."
In Planning's defence, she said: "In that particular department, they do have serious staffing issues. It's not just in Bermuda, I have chatted with Ombudsmen elsewhere. Planning is very technical, very time consuming. Bermuda is developing so quickly, there's so many things on their plate."
Mr. Leach has said the staffing issues are now being addressed. Asked if people had given the impression they think she's an ogre, Ms Brock replied: "None of them actually came out with that. I'm doing my job. If everyone were singing Kumbaya I probably would not be. I think people recognise it. In 98 percent of the time, people understand that that's the nature of the job, to make inquiries, to ask uncomfortable questions, to dig below the surfaces of responses. I don't make approaches or comments without having thought about it very carefully, without a sense of how Ombudsmen do it elsewhere. I have a sense of what's the best practice."
Mr. Leach has pointed out how, out of thousands of Planning applications, only a handful attracted complaints that went to the Ombudsman. On this point, Ms Brock said: "I'm also aware of other situations where people have given up, or where people keep trying themselves without coming to the Ombudsman. We have had a couple of cases where complainants did not want to give their name. On one occasion, a complainant withdrew a case because they were concerned there might be some level of subtle retribution. I won't say there's a trend, but we are looking at that. A square inch of property in Bermuda is pretty valuable, so people are very concerned about what happens."
It wasn't just Planning that was shown up in Ms Brock's report. She said Government Employees Health Insurance was so unresponsive that an elderly woman died while her daughter waited for it to return her calls regarding medical expenses.
Meanwhile one elderly man ended up receiving $40,000 in owed pensions following incredible delays by the Department of Social Insurance. And the Human Rights Commission was so slow processing a sexual harassment complaint that the Department of Public Prosecutions was timed out — meaning the case could never reach court.The report provides descriptive accounts of each of the instances, although no complainants are named. Further protecting against any identification, Ms Brock declines to talk about any examples.
Overall, Ms Brock — now two and a half years into her eight-year tenure — said it was too early to draw any conclusions about attitudes within Government departments.
"I still think it's too early to talk in terms of trends," she said. "We are looking at the cases as they come up to determine if they are trends. Maybe next year we will have a better sense of it because we are beginning a trend analysis."
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The Royal Gazette
12th February 2007
Ombudsman Touts Successes in First Annual Report
BY SCOTT NEIL
A brinkmanship stand-off with former Bermuda Housing Corporation management that went to within hours of a contempt of court hearing ended when the BHC backed down from a confrontation with the Bermuda Ombudsman's office and paid back money wrongly taken from tenants.
That is one of the successes and challenges documented in the first annual ombudsman's report just released showing the office received 137 complaints of which 79 led to formal inquiries during its first full year.
Examples of complaints the Ombudsman was called upon to investigate range from a dispute over an illegally parked car being towed away and a company complaining about tardy mail delivery to BHC getting double payments for accommodation it rented out. And the Department of Planning is spotlighted as the Government branch that received most complaints, a total of 11 during the reporting period, leading the Ombudsman to note: "Staffing has not grown in proportion to the volume and complexity of its work, particularly for enforcement. The Ministry is working on this challenge."
The Ombudsman's office, which started operation in mid-2005, intends to move to an electronic complaints management system within the coming months to improve its own efficiency. In its report the number of complaints from August 1, 2005 to July 31, 2006 was 137, of which 22 remained active at the end of that period, 11 had been declined, 57 had been disposed of and 47 referred to an outside agency to take action. Sample cases present a snapshot of problems faced by residents dealing with Government departments and public bodies.
"Most (complaints) were resolved after preliminary inquiries. A few required full-scale investigations. By and large, Government authorities have been responsive, interested in pursuing resolutions and accepting of our recommendations," said Ombudsman Arlene Brock. "There were a few cases in which the complaint to me was about unreasonable delay and in turn the authorities took considerably longer than desirable to respond to my inquiries. There were two cases of active resistance to the investigation and the recommendations. One which has since been resolved even beyond my expectations initially required commencement of contempt of court proceedings. The other, still outstanding at year end, is with the Attorney General's Chambers."
The resolved matter that initially caused contempt of court proceedings to begin, related to BHC and a situation where the housing corporation had taken rent from residents for damaged and uninhabitable housing units while at the same time accepting compensation money from an insurance company for the same units. "Effectively, the BHC had been doubly compensated," reports Ms Brock. The situation came to light when one tenant complained to the Ombudsman about not being credited by BHC for rent paid on a unit unfit for habitation. When BHC repeatedly refused to co-operate with the inquiry and even challenged Ms Brock's jurisdiction, legal proceedings started.
"The day before proceedings were to begin, the BHC agreed to attend an interview and provide the information requested months earlier. The matter was fully resolved after the BHC's new administration reviewed the Ombudsman's recommendations," states Ms Brock. "Indeed, the BHC is to be commended for its sensitive apology to the tenant in the Ombudsman's office. The BHC's resolution went even beyond the Ombudsman's recommendations."
The Ombudsman's office went further and opened its own investigation to ensure other tenants in the same building were also given refunds from the BHC. In a letter reproduced in the annual report, the original tenant who raised the matter wrote: "The Ombudsman's office is a truly welcome addition to Bermuda especially for those who have almost lost all hope of recovering what is right. Ms Brock went the extra mile in making sure everything was fair. The rules were explained to me in a way that made it easy for me to understand and the process was quick and efficient."
Other cases dealt with include;
A pensioner who waited eight months for a $40 reimbursement from the Department of Social Service. The department was found to be more than one year in arrears in making payments to physicians. There was no maladministration, but the delay was caused by a manual reconciliation process that is now being computerised. The Ombudsman is being updated on progress.
A company that complained that delays of up to 11 days in the delivery of bills and receipt of payments was causing havoc for its operation and to its customers. The Ombudsman made inquiries with the General Post Office and was advised that short and medium term measures were being made, a consultant and extra staff were being hired, and a public apology was made to explain the problem.
The owner of an unlicensed car left in an unauthorised parking space for a long period complained when it was towed away and he was ordered to pay a towing fee or the car would be destroyed. The Ombudsman investigated and decided TCD had given adequate notice of the action before it was taken by issuing a parking ticket and therefore there had been no maladministration.
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The Royal Gazette
20th January 2006
Governor is Confident Ombudsman will do Job Well as New Office Opens
BY HEATHER WOOD
GOVERNOR Sir John Vereker and Premier Alex Scott officially opened Bermuda’s first Ombudsman’s office yesterday.
Present at the Dundonald Street office for the ribbon-cutting ceremony were members of the legal fraternity and a host of other dignitaries. The Governor congratulated Government for the ground-laying initiative which led to Arlene Brock’s appointment as the island’s first Ombudsman last year.
“Governments have nothing to lose and everything to gain by ensuring high standards of public administration. Democratic societies always have to balance the powers of the state against accountability to the people,” said Sir John. “Accountability means that public servants and public institutions can be held responsible for their actions, that Governments must explain what they are doing with the taxes they raise, and that individuals know what to do if they have a grievance.” He added that the Ombudsman is the ‘last link’ in a chain which connects the public with Government. “It’s a chain that includes free and open elections, parliamentary scrutiny of the executive, independent audit of public spending, a politically-neutral civil service and an independent judiciary.”
For years Bermudians had enjoyed the freedom of choice in Government, with residents accustomed to equal treatment from public servants regardless of “race, faith or relationship,” Sir John said. “And now, anyone on this island has a place to go if they think they are a victim of maladministration” that something has gone wrong in the way they have been treated. That includes suffering from public administration that is inefficient or unreasonable, or improper or unfair, or discriminatory or arbitrary, or negligent or simply bad. All those adjectives now appear in the law. I am sure none of us believes, Premier, Cabinet Secretary, that such adjectives are generally appropriate for public administration in Bermuda. Bermuda can be proud of its long tradition of high quality and impartial public service. And, of course, to the extent that anything occasionally does fall below the highest standards of public service, what we all of us hope, and what I certainly believe, is that as time goes on the very existence of the Ombudsman will make maladministration even less likely.”
Sir John expressed every confidence that Ms Brock would do her job well ‘without fear or favour’. “You, Ombudsman, are the smile on the face of the Cheshire cat, if you remember you are what will be left when the cat itself vanishes. We look forward to the time when you sit behind your desk for hours on end, waiting for the telephone to ring, and it never does because the public has no complaints. Until then, you have a job to do, and I know you will do it well, without fear or favour in these admirable new offices which I now have the pleasure in declaring open.”
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The Royal Gazette
19th January 2006
Ombudsman Asked to set up Complaints Unit for Ministry
BY SAM STRANGEWAY
A Government Ministry has already approached Bermuda’s new Ombudsman to ask for help in setting up a complaints handling department, it emerged yesterday.
Arlene Brock, who was appointed to the post last August, would not say which Ministry was involved but told: “One department has requested my assistance. They have recognised that it would be useful and that I could help them and give them some advice." Ms Brock, a former lawyer, spoke out as two leading experts on ombudsmen arrived on the Island to officially open Bermuda’s new Office of the Ombudsman, in Dundonald Street, Hamilton, today.
Professor Victor Ayeni, from the Commonwealth Secretariat in London, and Dr. Hayden Thomas, the Ombudsman of Antigua and Barbuda, will also give a public lecture this evening at 7 p.m. in North Hall.
Professor Ayeni said the approach from the Ministry to Ms Brock was a sign that those in power on the Island welcomed the Ombudsman, who deals with grievances from the public against the Government and its services. “Within a short time, for a Government to have recognised that says a lot about the impact the Ombudsman has had.” Professor Ayeni said Bermuda already had a head start on other countries introducing an ombudsman, because the initiative came from Government. He was consulted on the process by Bermuda’s central policy unit long before Ms Brock was appointed. “Here, the initiative came from Bermuda and what we do is facilitate. I think you have very good legislation here and you have the privilege of having resources. I have worked in institutions where they couldn’t even pay the ombudsman’s salary.” He said it was too early to assess how the Island’s new Ombudsman was doing. The department received 54 complaints from September 1 to December 30 and an annual report on how they and other complaints have been dealt with will be given to Parliament later this year. “The very fact that people know there is someone they can talk to is a good thing,” said Professor Ayeni. “It’s very unhealthy for a country to have feelings pent up. It’s not an exaggeration to say that a democracy is incomplete without an ombudsman. “It’s also time and cost-effective.”
Ms Brock’s department has a budget of about $360,000 in its first year. Next year’s budget will include the cost of a computer case management system for the department. Ms Brock said that although she had looked at systems in Canada, Australia and the US, she was more likely to opt for a Bermudian system.
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The Royal Gazette
12th January 2006
Ombudsman: Not as Many Complaints as Expected
BY ELIZABETH ROBERTS
The first-ever ombudsman put in place to investigate complaints against the Government and Government services says she has not received as many as expected over the past few months.
Arlene Brock was appointed on August 1 2005, and in the period from September 1 to December 30 she has heard 54 complaints from people across the Island. Her service is free and she will provide a yearly report to Parliament. She can also send special reports to shame departments who have failed to follow her recommendations although this has not been necessary yet.
Looking back over the short time that she has been in the post, she said this week: “I had expected more complaints but what I am pleased about is that I have only received one that could be described as a little frivolous. I’m glad that I have got serious complaints.”
Although reluctant to go into specific details of these, she revealed that some of the common themes to emerge so far have been unreasonable delays, inefficiency, arbitrary decisions and a lack of “common sense”. However, in contrast to the experience of some of her counterparts in the other 111 countries across the globe with ombudsmen ‘some of whom have been forced out of their roles by disgruntled ministers‘ she has found the Bermuda government supportive.
“An ombudsman in Argentina got back to her office one day and found that the locks had been changed and the electricity cut off,” she said. “In contrast, I have had expressions of support from the Cabinet Secretary and Premier. “I have only found one instance of real resistance. The government departments have realised that I try to help the complainant understand when the government is doing what they ought to be doing.”
During a speech to the Hamilton Rotary Club on Tuesday Ms Brock outlined some of the background and key aspects of her job. She told the Rotarians that the most important quality for any ombudsman was independence. “The jury is still out but I hope that it can be shown over time that I have personal independence. The ombudsman is not the adversary of the government and not the advocate for the complainant. It is my role to find out what is going on,” she explained.
Referring to the 54 complaints she has heard so far, she told the Rotarians that 23 were referred on to other agencies as they did not fall under her jurisdiction or because not all remedies had been exhausted. Five of the complaints have been closed with a result after an investigation, one has been the subject of a recommendation that the authority in question has to respond to within 20 days, and one was withdrawn by the complainant. The others have either been declined by the ombudsman or are the subject of current preliminary inquiries or active investigations. Ms Brock added that she was looking forward to the visit of two of the world’s foremost ombudsmen to Bermuda later this month. Dr. Victor Ayeni, director of the Governance and Institutional Development Division of the Commonwealth Secretariat and Dr. Hayden Thomas, Ombudsman of Antigua and Barbuda, will give a public lecture at the Bermuda College at 7 p.m. on November 19.
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The Royal Gazette
30th August 2005
Ombudsman’s Office Opens on Thursday
Residents with grievances against Government can lodge their complaints with the Ombudsman office beginning on Thursday.
Arlene Brock assumed the post on August 1 and will accept complaints from the public about administrative decisions or actions of any Government department, board or other body established by Parliament or a Minister. Complaints may be made verbally, electronically or in writing and must be made within one year after the day the complainant first became aware of the administrative action.
The office will be open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. on Mondays to Thursdays and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays. For more information: 296-6541 (phone), 296-7734 (fax) and firstname.lastname@example.org (e-mail). Mailing address: Bermuda Ombudsman, Suite 102, 14 Dundonald Street West, Hamilton HM 09.
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The Royal Gazette
7th July 2005
Governor Appoints Brock to new Position of Ombudsman
BY STUART ROBERTS
Arlene Brock was officially sworn in as Bermuda’s first Ombudsman at Government House yesterday.
She said she was humbled and grateful to be given the opportunity to serve Bermuda. “I hope I will serve Bermuda with a level of compassion and fairness and honesty and technique this office so deserves,” she said. Mr. Brock said being the Ombudsman is an “absolutely daunting responsibility which undoubtedly would be very challenging”.
She thanked those responsible for giving her the post the Premier, Opposition Leader, Interview Commission and references. And she said she was touched by the public’s support and confidence in her. “People are very excited in Bermuda (that) we are entering the 21st Century this way,” she said. “I would like to believe, in the words of that popular song, that that support and confidence will be the ‘wind beneath my wings.’” She also thanked her family and friends for their support and encouragement over the years.
Governor Sir John Vereker said the appointment of Bermuda’s first Ombudsman was an important occasion. “For centuries political philosophers have been struggling with the issue, how do we make those charged with providing public services more directly accountable to the public, to the individuals who benefit from them,” he said “In our system of Westminster style democracy, there is of course an accountability of Ministers to the electorate. But societies have become increasingly complicated and the services being provided are more and more complicated. Across the world now, people are moving towards the establishment of the post of Ombudsman in order to fill this accountability gap to ensure that the individual does not feel too remote from the people providing the public services. And whether that is because an individual feels that a decision has been taken wrongly, or a decision has not been taken, or a decision is delayed, there is now a channel, or will be a channel, to redress that. And those who enjoy so much listening to the talk shows in Bermuda have every confidence that this channel is going to be used.”
Ms Brock starts work on August 1, but she said she will not be fully operational until December 1. Premier Alex Scott called yesterday’s proceedings historic. “The Ombudsman will be like a prefect,” he said. “She will monitor day to day concerns and complaints and she does not have to wait for a complaint of how our Government is serving the public. I have asked and required Cabinet to work closely with her, respond to her and give her all the support and assistance that we possibly can. I’m also going to meet with the heads of Government, the Permanent Secretaries and Technical Officers and do the same thing. “I want the concept of good governance to catch on like wildfire and spread because when we better serve the community we get a better community.”
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The Royal Gazette
6th July 2005
Ombudsman Set to Take up Role Today
So what is an Ombudsman?
The short answer, it turns out, is that Ms Brock is not quite sure herself. “Civilian oversight is an evolving institution all around the world,” she said. “Bermuda’s Ombudsman position has just been created and so I will be learning and evolving as I go along.”
The post was only created by the House of Assembly in 2004 with the passing of the Ombudsman Act, she said. “The drafters in Bermuda had the benefit of seeing how similar systems work elsewhere,” Ms Brock said in her soft and articulate manner. "I think they did a pretty good job of creating a framework for the Island’s Ombudsman and also innovating for Bermuda ever so slightly.” In attempting to explain her new post, Ms Brock turned to its classical definitions. “The role of an Ombudsman is neither to advocate for the people nor to represent the Government,” she said. “Rather an Ombudsman decides whether there is a fair complaint being made (against Government authorities), the ways to resolve the dispute and the ways in which to make Bermuda’s Government system cleaner running.”
Ms Brock grew more animated as she began to describe the many variations of Ombudsmen which have evolved internationally, each moulded to fulfil a country’s distinct requirements. “South Africa is the most exciting example of how Ombudsmen can function in a country,” she said. The creation of a new South Africa in the 1990s after apartheid, created a particular need for a position which could be seen as protecting the public from politicians and civil servants who may abuse their powers, she said. "The Ombudsman is the public’s protector in South Africa, which is a different flavour of Ombudsman altogether,” Ms Brock said. However, when comparing population and area, Bermuda is minuscule relative to South Africa. In such a small jurisdiction, do we need a ‘public agent for justice’? Ms Brock firmly believes the answer is yes. “In a small country like Bermuda I think civilian oversight is a necessity,” she said. “Already in Bermuda there is the Human Rights Commission, Consumer Affairs and other mechanisms for resolving disputes in different arenas.”
The Ombudsman will be serve as a special mechanism to resolve disputes within the Government sector. “This legislation (2004 Ombudsman Act) gives more than enough guidance to Bermuda’s Ombudsman,” she said.
And of special note, Ms Brock said, are the avenues for mediation the Act lays out. These are particularly helpful tools for sifting through disputes in Bermuda. “We are a small community, and our relationships don’t end with one dispute,” Ms Brock said, laughing. “I’m going to complain even if the official is my sister’s boyfriend’s cousin.
“That means that we have even more need for mediation. Ms Brock hopes mediation will enable a minimal civility between complainants, whom she said, would most likely have to interact, professionally or otherwise, with the authority they make a complaint against.
Conflict resolution is an area for which Ms Brock is especially well suited. After earning a Masters of Law degree from Harvard University in International Human Rights Law, Ms Brock moved in the upper echelons of the United Nations, briefing the Secretary General on Asian affairs and helping to train ambassadors on the UN’s peacekeeping role. She then moved on to teaching negotiation and mediation practices with Conflict Management Inc., an arm of the Harvard Negotiation Program, a think-tank. “I don’t think we are distinct in Bermuda,” she said. “I would like to hope that the Ombudsman would evolve as a problem solver and not as an enforcer, not a terminator or a problem maker. I don’t think any public servant gets up in the morning and says 'let me go take part in mal-administration.' Nor do complainants wake up in the morning and say 'let me go and make hell for a Civil Servant'. However, it’s so easy for small problems to escalate. The Ombudsman’s responsibility, I think, is to ask 'how do we resolve this dispute?' And from a broader perspective, 'how do we make systematic adjustments so that this dispute doesn’t happen again?'”
When asked how much influence Bermuda’s Ombudsman will have over legislative matters, Ms Brock said she could not know right now. “In France, the Ombudsman can comment on legislation,” she said. “There is no such jurisdiction in Bermuda but the Ombudsman can look at issues of law.” The Ombudsman’s authority and duties will be decided by the Supreme Court which will have final say in interpreting the Ombudsman Act. “The Ombudsman must always avoid being politicised by issues in Government,” Ms Brock said. "I have spoken to Ombudsmen from around the world (about political concerns). And their advice for when the political waters become hot, “is to look at the issue being investigated and the appropriate legislation”, she said. “If people are looking at it as a political issue, the Ombudsman must remember what her role is and avoid being a political football.”
According to Ms Brock, Ombudsmen around the world connect in an informal network in which information, advice and queries are shot off instantly online. “I get responses to questions from all over the world,” she said.
Within days of the announcement of her appointment, Ms Brock was invited to a conference for American Ombudsmen, including a one-day orientation for new Ombudsmen. “And the Commonwealth Secretariat wants to create an orientation programme for Ombudsmen,” she added. “Even though it’s a new position for Bermuda, it is comforting to have this kind of international support.”
Ms Brock plans to spend the month of August on a campaign to educate Bermuda on her new role. She will be meeting with the Cabinet and the Shadow Cabinet, as well as the Civil Service executive, she said. She will also be running meetings for the public and will begin receiving complaints as of September 1.
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The Royal Gazette
6th July 2005
The 2004 Ombudsman Act outlines the limits and responsibilities of Bermuda’s first Ombudsman, Arlene Brock. To investigate complaints against authorities and decide if there is evidence of ‘mal-administration’.
In light of investigation, the Ombudsman will make recommendations to the authority on the actions in question and in general ‘about ways of improving administrative practices and procedures’. Government departments, boards and any other corporation or body can be investigated. Such bodies or corporations can be established by legislation or a minister. Additionally, anybody who receives funding directly from Government may also be investigated by the Ombudsman (e.g. Corporation of Hamilton or the Bermuda Housing Corporation). Mal-administration, as defined by the Ombudsman Act 2004, includes ‘inefficient, bad or improper administration.’
The following complaints can be filed:
Lengthy delays in carrying out obligations.
Abuse of any power of his or her official position.
Administrative action which is contrary to law.
Carrying out unfair, oppressive or unjustly discriminatory actions.
Negligence in actions.
Complaints of arbitrary procedures.
A person who claims that he or she was treated unjustly as result of an authority’s mal-administration. Also a person who claims an injury in connection with an administrative action of the authority can file a complaint.
When the Ombudsman is satisfied that there are ‘reasonable grounds’ for an investigation ‘in the public interest’ she can initiate an investigation without a formal complaint.
If questions of jurisdiction arise, the Ombudsman or complainant can apply to the Supreme Court for a decision on the parameters of the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction.
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The Royal Gazette
17th May 2005
Brock Named Ombudsman
BY SARAH TITTERTON
Police Complaints Authority chairwoman Arlene Brock has been named the first ever Government Ombudsman.
Governor Sir John Vereker appointed Ms Brock after an open and competitive process, a Government House statement said yesterday, and she will take up the position once the necessary office facilities are in place. Applications for the $137,000 per year post closed in February. The Ombudsman, funded by the Bermuda Government, will act as a watchdog investigating complaints against Government and Government services. The service is free to the public and the Ombudsman will send a yearly report to the Legislature and the public in general.
However the Ombudsman is barred from making any changes which are binding to Government, instead making recommendations for change where it is considered needed. If those recommendations are not followed through, an embarrassing report can then be sent to the Legislature. The Ombudsman is also barred from investigating administrative actions taken by Cabinet Ministers or Junior Ministers, though Premier Alex Scott promised during the debate on the legislation last year that the handiwork on Ministers will be taken account of. The power to amend the boundaries of who or what can or cannot be investigated is up to the Premier. The Ombudsman is responsible to the Governor and the Legislature.
The date for Ms Brock’s formal appointment by the Governor will be announced in due course. Was unable to contact Ms Brock yesterday.
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