The failure to appoint a new public service watchdog is creating “uncertainty and demotivation” within the Office of the Ombudsman.

In an annual report tabled in parliament earlier this month, Ombudsman Anthony Mifsud said it has been over a year since he was supposed to be replaced by a new nominee.

His five-year term officially expired in March 2021.

Mifsud said this failure to appoint a successor is creating uncertainty and demotivation within his office, and also making planning impossible.

He suggested the introduction of an anti-deadlock mechanism to unblock situations where the required two-thirds majority to appoint his successor cannot be achieved.

Both the ombudsman and standards commissioner’s offices have been left in limbo over the government’s and opposition’s failure to agree on new nominees for the roles.

Opposition Leader Bernard Grech in July accused Prime Minister Robert Abela of failing to hold consultations for these two appointments.

George Hyzler vacated the role of standards commissioner in September.

In a final press conference, he warned of “repercussions” on the office’s work if no one was immediately identified to replace him.

Clashes with the parliament 

The ombudsman criticised parliament for consistently ignoring his office’s opinions about breaches by government departments.

Last year, 14 such opinions upholding complaints by citizens about the public service had been tabled in parliament, Mifsud said.

The ombudsman said the relevant parliament committee had even failed to discuss his annual report for the previous year.

He called it a shame that 25 years after the ombudsman’s office had been set up, parliament has yet to value its function in helping it hold the executive branch to account. Over the past years, Mifsud said his office had weighed in on matters like the rule of law, transparency and the right to access information.

While these contributions had been recognised by civil society and the media, little attention had been given to them by parliament, Mifsud said.

Mifsud also turned his guns on the public service, saying certain entities view the ombudsman as an obstacle to the running of their departments that they have to tolerate against their will.

This is reflected in the slow and reluctant cooperation the ombudsman received from the public service, Mifsud noted.

He said certain entities also consider the ombudsman’s office as a glorified grievances unit, even though the office is autonomous and independent from the public sector.

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